History made as more than 100 councillors convene online for first ever unitary meeting

Two new unitary councils - in the West and North of the county - will be formed next April.Two new unitary councils - in the West and North of the county - will be formed next April.
Two new unitary councils - in the West and North of the county - will be formed next April. | jpimedia
The new unitary council for West Northamptonshire held its first ever ‘shadow’ meeting last night (June 2) – kickstarting 10 months of work for its official launch next April.

Roughly 120 councillors from Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire and the county council’s western areas took up their seats as new ‘shadow’ councillors to decide a range of key issues at the online session.

The councillors will combine the two roles until next April, when the new unitary council – called West Northamptonshire Council – will officially launch. At the same time, the existing district and borough councils will be abolished.

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The meeting confirmed the appointments of several key players in the unitary transition over the next year.

Northampton Borough Council’s chief executive, George Candler, was named the interim chief executive for the unitary, while Susan Zeiss – the monitoring officer for the county council – will take on the same role at the unitary. And Martin Henry, the chief finance officer at South Northamptonshire Council, will assume the same role for the shadow council.

South Northamptonshire leader Ian McCord was also officially appointed interim leader – having been selected by the government – and said that all three officers would take on their extra roles without any additional pay.

Councillor McCord said: “Together let us build a great council, with a single mission. Local Government reborn, revitalised and reinvented with a fresh start delivering bright futures for everyone.”

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Councillors also agreed the shadow authority’s constitution – the legal framework which sets out how it will be run and do business – along with the Code of Conduct for the 132 members that sit on the shadow.

But Daventry’s Labour councillor Stephen Dabbs wanted to see more flexibility in the running order of the agenda for future meetings. He highlighted a meeting in Daventry where more than 400 people turned up for a specific item about a new surgery, but were made to wait for nearly two hours so other business could be conducted first. He said: “They shouldn’t be left to hang around and listen to things they’re not interested in.”

A number of councillors also called for a Youth Council to be set up, while Northampton’s Labour councillor Zoe Smith said the new unitary needed to think about the climate emergency – that has been declared by three of the four councils – with every decision it makes.

Other decisions included appointing former Daventry District Council leader Councillor Chris Millar as the interim chairman of the council – meaning he will oversee the meetings. Northampton based county councillor Pinder Chauhan was appointed deputy chairman.

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Councillors also received and endorsed the membership of the authority’s new executive committee, which will head up the authority’s preparations for the new council, and decided the membership of other shadow committees for Overview and Scrutiny, Standards and Senior Appointments.

A number of opposition councillors complained about the proportionality of the parties on the committees. Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Sally Beardsworth complained that she would no longer have a place on a committee examining the constitution because of her political party, despite her knowledge on the subject.

She said: “I understand about proportionality but if I was in charge I would use the best people. I was on the county council but in the end I had to leave because every suggestion we put forward was ignored. Why don’t you have some independent thoughts in there? It’s not fair that you’re excluding people. I have been cut out completely and I can’t offer my expertise. I want to help, not sit at home and twiddle my thumbs.”

Her comments were supported by Councillor Phil Larratt, a Conservative member of the shadow council’s cabinet. He said: “Sally and I go back a long way and she has great knowledge and understanding of the constitution. I’m very sorry she won’t be in the new working group.”

The Shadow Executive, which is effectively the cabinet, is set to hold its first meeting online next week (Tuesday June 9). The meeting will be broadcast live on YouTube.