Northampton councillors slam ‘undemocratic’ decision for government to appoint new shadow unitary leader

Borough councillors are not impressed with the government's decision to appoint the interim leader of the new shadow unitary authorityBorough councillors are not impressed with the government's decision to appoint the interim leader of the new shadow unitary authority
Borough councillors are not impressed with the government's decision to appoint the interim leader of the new shadow unitary authority | jpimedia
Opposition councillors in Northampton have said that it is ‘undemocratic’ for the government to appoint the new interim leader of the shadow unitary council.

Existing local councillors – who will now also act as the shadow councillors for a year until the formal launch of the unitary authority next April – had been expected to be able to vote for the interim leader, but it was revealed yesterday that the government has taken the decision out of their hands.

And this has angered members of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, who slammed the decision to make the decision at Westminster.

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Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Northampton’s Labour group leader Councillor Danielle Stone said: “I’m absolutely hopping mad, I think it’s really undemocratic and piles on top of the fact that we’ve had two cancelled elections and that most councillors don’t have a mandate.

“What they have done at the borough and county has not been up for public scrutiny, and I think it’s an insult to the people of Northampton for the government to now presume that they can demand who can be the shadow leader.”

West Northamptonshire will effectively merge together all the services currently undertaken by the county council, and the district councils in Northampton, Daventry and South Northamptonshire. All four of those councils will be abolished to make way.

Members of the public had been expected to vote in ‘shadow councillors’ for the new West Northamptonshire Council in an election in May, but that has been postponed due to coronavirus. Instead, elections will be held next year to vote in new councillors, who would start a three-year term immediately.

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This year’s postponement follows on from a similar tale in 2019, when the government cancelled elections in Northamptonshire due to the reorganisation of the councils.

It means the majority of councillors have served two additional years on top of the four year term they were elected for in 2015, and they will also now help shape the new council.

Councillor Stone added: “We have seven Conservative MPs and they are supposed to be fighting for us and fighting for democracy.

“I don’t think it’s good enough to be using the situation that we are in to be so heavy handed.”

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Her concerns were echoed by the Liberal Democrat leader at The Guildhall, Councillor Sally Beardsworth.

She said: “It’s totally undemocratic. How is a minister in London going to understand the qualities of the people here? We need to get the best person for the job and I don’t think the minister will be equipped to do that.

“I understand that the government don’t want any more delays, but the whole country is being put on hold for six months and you’re taking away the right for locals to have a say in an election, and then this. I am just very concerned that the people that have dragged the county council down to these depths will be getting votes on this new council, and I think people are fed up with what they have done already.”

A joint statement from the current council leaders, released yesterday (March 30), stated: “We expect the government to nominate those local councillors who will be interim leaders and deputy leaders of the shadow authorities as opposed to these being selected locally. Those nominated will take on this responsibility until such time as elected representatives can be returned to the new councils.”

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