Cost of first meetings of new Northamptonshire unitary authorities more than £22,000 but will it be a one-off?
Government will pay for £22,760 bill of hiring external venues
The first two meetings of the new unitary authorities in Northamptonshire will cost £22,760 but the authorities hope it will be a one-off.
West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) and North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) needed to hire venues big enough to provide Covid-19 compliant space to accommodate their councillors, council staff, public and the media.
None of their own buildings could provide sufficient space to allow safe social distancing for the numbers expected to attend.
The costs will be met by the Government as part of its funding to cover costs relating to the impact of Covid-19.
All local authorities must now hold meetings in public now after the government announced that emergency legislation regarding virtual council meetings will not be extended beyond May 7.
WNC, which has 93 councillors, is due to hold its first meeting tomorrow (May 20) at Franklin’s Gardens, the home of Northampton Saints starting at 6pm.
The fee to the council for hiring the venue will be £8,360 which will be paid out of funding provided to local authorities by the government to deal with the costs of the pandemic.
A spokesperson for WNC said: “Initially all internal venues were assessed and none were found to be able to safely and legally accommodate the meeting.
“Then a list of 17 external options were identified (including schools, community centres, theatres and hotels). Each was then assessed for capacity, availability, accessibility, suitability and cost.
“Of the small number that met the base criteria, the Saints was agreed as the most suitable and safe.
“The cost of this meeting will be covered by the funds provided by the Government to meet the cost associated with the response to Covid19," the spokesperson said.
NN Council, which has 78 councillors, is due to hold its first meeting at Kettering Conference Centre on Wednesday (May 26) starting at 7pm.
The cost to the council for hiring the venue for the meeting is £14,400 plus VAT.
A spokesman for North Northamptonshire Council said: “The first annual council meeting for North Northamptonshire Council will be held on Wednesday 26 May at 7pm.
“In response to the government statement that virtual council meeting powers will not be extended and COVID-compliance will still need to be robustly followed, the first North Northamptonshire Council meeting will be held at Kettering Conference Centre.
“This venue offers the required space to ensure the health and safety of attending members.
“Former council chambers are not of sufficient size to ensure COVID-compliance for all involved in the meeting.
“This is an additional cost (£14,400 plus VAT) for the council, like many other authorities across England.
“Every effort will be made to ensure formal council meetings remain accessible to the public, arrangements for which are being finalised.”
The authorities are hoping that future meetings that require full attendance will be after the relaxation of all restrictions on June 21 at which point they will be able to accommodate numbers in their own buildings.