Northampton Borough Council looks set to support the government’s recommendation to suspend district and borough elections in 2020 – as voters would ‘likely be confused’ by an election at the same time to the new council that would replace it.
Secretary of State for local government, James Brokenshire, is seeking views on postponing the scheduled 2020 election for Northampton Borough Council (NBC). Elections had already been postponed in 2019 due to the reorganisation of local government, which will see NBC replaced by the new West Northamptonshire Council.
Instead, elections will take place next summer for the new council, though it will only act as a ‘shadow authority’ working behind the scenes until it is officially launched on April 1, 2021. Three councillors would be elected for each of the wards within the new West unitary.
The proposal meanwhile to postpone the borough council election, purely focusing instead on the elections to the shadow unitaries, looks set to be backed by Northampton Borough Council. It would mean the vast majority of NBC councillors will serve an extra two years on top of the four-year term that they were originally elected for in 2015.
Elections had already been suspended in May 2019 as it was anticipated that the unitary authorities would be ready in time for April 2020. At the time, Mr Brokenshire had said that ‘elections in such circumstances risk confusing voters and would involve significant costs that would be hard to justify’. But delay of the unitary start date means another 12 months will pass without local voters heading to the ballot box for their borough councillor in Northampton.
In a draft letter to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the chief executive of NBC, George Candler, writes: “We agree that the elections should be held on the basis of three-member wards resulting in 93 members in the West Northamptonshire Unitary Council.
“We agree that the district/borough elections currently scheduled for 2020 should be cancelled. Whilst a consequence of this will be that the current district/borough councillors will have been in position for six years leading up to the establishment of the West Northamptonshire unitary council, it would not, in our view, be a good use of taxpayer monies to hold district/borough elections for a term of only one year. The electorate would also likely be confused with the various elections, to the parish, district/borough and shadow authority.”
The borough council does suggest however that it would back the parish council elections taking place. The parish councils in the area will remain in place despite the reorganisation of local government, and will not be abolished as NBC will as they only have limited responsibilities.
A number of councillors in the area already sit on a parish council, Northampton Borough Council, and Northamptonshire County Council. Should they also stand and be elected for the unitary, it would see them – for one year – representing four different councils.
Northamptonshire County Council and Daventry District Council have already approved resolutions backing the postponement of district/borough elections in the county next summer. Although the draft response from NBC has been written, it will still require rubber stamping by full council when it meets next Monday (July 22).
A local election timeline
November 29, 2018 – It is announced that elections for the district and borough councils of Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Wellingborough, set to take place in May 2019, will be suspended and will take place in May 2020 instead. It followed a request to postpone them from all eight.
May 2, 2019 – The nation heads to the ballot box to vote in the local elections. Apart from in Northamptonshire.
May 14, 2019 – James Brokenshire finally announces that the proposed reorganisation will go ahead. But the start date will be delayed by one year, with the new unitary authorities now not officially starting until April 1, 2021. Mr Brokenshire ‘seeks views’ on the postponement of the elections for the district/borough councils that had been moved to 2020.
May 7, 2020 – Local elections take place in the UK. Northamptonshire residents will be able to vote in parish council elections as normal, and elections to the new unitary authority councils (West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire) that will formally launch in 2021 will also take place. Residents look unlikely to be able to vote in elections for their existing district/borough councillor, who will remain in post for one more year.
April 1, 2021 – After a year running behind the scenes, the unitary authorities – West Northamptonshire Council and North Northamptonshire Council – are officially launched. Northamptonshire County Council, and the seven district and borough councils in Corby, Daventry, East Northamptonshire, Kettering, Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Wellingborough are abolished.