Everything you need to know about the Northamptonshire council changes coming into force on April 1

Got local government review confusion? Wondering what 'vesting day' means? Then look no further...

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 7:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 10:59 am

From April 1, council services in Northamptonshire will be provided by two unitary authorities instead of the current two-tier structure.

Several other new councils will be formed to represent different towns and communities as well.

But why is the biggest change in local government in 40 years happening? And what will it mean for residents and businesses?

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The new logos for North and West Northamptonshire councils

Here is everything you need to know ahead of 'vesting day' in just under a month's time.

Rewind to county council's cash crash catalyst

The catalyst for the major change to Northamptonshire's local government structure was the financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council in 2018.

The council announced it was 'effectively insolvent' with a deficit of more than £30 million, prompting two section 114 notices that outlawed all new expenditures.

A government investigation recommended the council was abolished and replaced with two unitary authorities, with two commissioners appointed to oversee its running until that happened.

In February last year, the Houses of Parliament approved the creation of North and West Northamptonshire councils on April 1, 2021.

What is a unitary authority?

A unitary authority essentially looks after all council services, such as social care, education, planning and waste management, rather than being split between county and district councils.

Northamptonshire currently has a county council and seven lower-tier councils: Corby, Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough boroughs and Daventry, East Northamptonshire and South Northamptonshire districts.

From April 1, known as 'vesting day', North Northamptonshire Council will be responsible for services in Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough.

And West Northamptonshire Council will look after services in Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire.

Will they be any better?

Unitary authorities are said to be less confusing for residents as they will only have one organisation to go for queries about highways, libraries or their council tax, rather than two.

West Northamptonshire Council's new chief executive, Anna Earnshaw, said they will also provide both financial and practical efficiencies, with fewer officers needed.

One early example of that is the timeframe for processing applications for disabled facilities grants has gone from 20 weeks to 10 days.

The change also provides an opportunity to make changes to how the councils operate and how services are provided to drive improvements.

Ms Earnshaw admitted the coronavirus pandemic has affected how much transformation they have been able to achieve before 'vesting day'.

A review will also be conducted of all the councils' assets to decide what buildings are needed and what presence they will have in each town.

A separate, independent children's trust for the whole county has been formed to look after that service in an attempt to make improvements, with Ofsted rating it 'inadequate'.

But critics have raised concerns about them being less connected to their communities with a larger area to cover.

Also people in Northampton will have very different issues to those in Aynho but West Northamptonshire shadow authority leader Ian McCord insisted no one will be ignored.

"The things people want from their council, like their bins being emptied, their carer to turn up, sensitive planning that makes sense and making town centres attractive places to live, work and visit, they're the same if you live in Daventry or Deanshanger or Northampton or Brackley or Towcester," he said.

"Yes you may have more of those issues in some areas and there are some differences but the actual issues aren't that different."

He added: "I hope as we go forward that there's more that unites us than what divides us."

What other councils are being formed?

With several towns essentially losing its council, new authorities are being set up to fill the void.

Corby, Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough are all getting their own town councils to look after the historic assets like the mayoralty and insignia.

Multiple 'community councils' are also being formed, including Far Cotton and Kingsthorpe in Northampton, to represent different areas.

All will operate 'below' the unitary authorities at the same level as parish councils, which have responsibility for a variety of services like allotments, recreational facilities and cemeteries.

What about elections?

Elections will be held for both unitaries, the parish councils and the police, fire and crime commissioner on May 6.

Concerns have been raised about holding them during the pandemic but the government has insisted they will go ahead with lots of measures in place designed to keep everyone safe.

Postal voting has been encouraged if voters do not want to go to polling stations, while there will be hand sanitisers and limits on the number of people allowed in at once on the day.

For even more information about the local government changes, visit futurenorthantsnorth.org or futurenorthantswest.org.

From April 1, for the West, visit westnorthants.gov.uk or call 0300 126 7000, and for the North, visit northnorthants.gov.uk or call 0300 126 3000.