Masterplan for Northamptonshire's local government reorganisation published today

The masterplan sets out the complicated process of abolishing eight councils and creating two new ones.
The masterplan sets out the complicated process of abolishing eight councils and creating two new ones.

A masterplan of how Northamptonshire’s eight councils are going to dissolve and be resurrected as two new unitary authorities has been published today.

The 26-page document sets out the road to unitary as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ which will now begin in April 2021.

The document sets out a new vision for the county which it says will seek to become ‘a showpiece for modern green living and well managed sustainable development’.

It says a big part in bringing in extra income will be by growing the county and getting involved in the Oxford – Cambridge Arc which is seeking to build an extra million homes in the area between the two cities.

The district, boroughs and county councils are being disbanded because of the financial meltdown of Northamptonshire County Council last year, which saw it fail to balance its books and have to sell off its headquarters to get itself back into the black.

One new unitary will be created for the north of the county and one authority will be set up for the west.

A joint comment made today (June 3) by the eight council leaders said the extra time given to transform to unitary – the original plan was for next year – has meant more time can be spent on making sure the new authorities are fully up and running from day one.

It says: “We’ve re-visited our programme and built in transformational work that will ensure we can deliver better integrated services from day one, rather than after the creation of the new councils.

“Sustainability is key to the success of the two new unitary authorities and part of that is creating services that provide what residents need when they need it most and are flexible. We’re working with health, the voluntary sector and other key stakeholders to make it easier for residents to access the services they need and make sure the right people are working together to deliver that service.

“The programme will be delivered by a team made up of staff from all eight authorities as well as some external programme management support. A chief executive from each current authority will lead each of the projects that make up the programme, making it a plan that is owned and delivered by all Northamptonshire councils.”

The estimated cost of the reorganisation is £43m and the masterplan reveals that all eight councils will need to put in an additional £1.9m in the 2020/21 financial year to pay for the transformation costs.

The rest of the funds will come from business rates and funds already committed by the councils.

The money will go on restructuring, redundancy, new IT systems, possible staff pay rises as well as some new sheltered housing, home adaptations for people with disabilities and transitional housing for young people. A full itemised breakdown of reorganisation costs has not been made public.

Although the west and north unitaries will be separate bodies, the masterplan sets out a common method of forming them. Much of the ‘expensive services’ – such as adult social care and children’s services’ – are currently provided by the county council but these will be delivered by the unitaries, along with typical district and borough services such as planning and refuse collection.

Government has decided that the county’s failing children’s services will be turned into an independent trust which will be accountable to both new authorities.

In the coming months leaders and councillors elected to two new joint committees will start to make more concrete plans before elections to a new shadow authority in May next year. New chief executives, finance officers and legal officer for the shadow authorities will also be appointed.

The prospectus says: “There are a number of key policy areas for consideration that leaders and members will need to debate and agree for each of the two new unitaries. We are not starting with a blank page and need to build on what we have as well as take the opportunity to adopt best practice. These are all big conversations and will need urgent focus and political leadership to resolve.”

These big issues include creating new single regulatory policies, whether to bring in consistent charges across all areas – which will impact more on some places than others, whether to increase staff pay across both unitaries to national terms and whether to set up ‘local delivery hubs’ and create local ward budgets.

Housing allocation policies will also need to be considered which could impact on waiting lists.

The plan also says that all existing assets of the councils will be reviewed as well as all existing contracts.

The document can be viewed here