Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn drops in at Northampton lunch club as part of election campaign

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn, speaks to lunch club members at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn, speaks to lunch club members at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.

Shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn says he has concerns about the future accountability of Northamptonshire County Council as the authority seeks to split into mutual organisations.

The Labour MP for Leeds Central made the comments during a visit to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s luncheon club on Kettering Road today, with the party’s Northampton North candidate Sally Keeble.

The son of former Labour peer Tony Benn is bidding to be the secretary of state in charge of local government after May’s election.

Speaking to the Chronicle & Echo today, he said he had worries about Northamptonshire County Council’s plan to begin outsourcing services to mutual companies and to reduce its core workforce from 4,000 to 150.

The county’s Labour group says the plan could lead to the council becoming privatised in the future.

Mr Benn, said: “The issue here is accountability.

“Say if a different authority were to take control in the future and wanted to change the arrangement, how long are you tying people into?

“And there are other practical considerations. Will Freedom of Information requests apply to the mutual organisations for example?

“All these things need to be thought through.”

Mr Benn however admitted that councils needed to look at ‘funding things in a different way’ as local authorities would continue to face ‘challenging’ budget restraints in the future.

He said an elected Labour government would devolve around £30 billion of spending power to councils from central government, and would encourage the joint working of neighbouring authorities.

Labour would also give councils more power to regulate bus timetables in their area, he added.

Defending the Conservative plans to begin moving Northamptonshire County Council services into community interest companies yesterday Councillor Robin Brown (Con, Braunston) said the authority would work at establishing trust in the plans over the consultation phase this summer.

He said that the council already outsources back office functions to a mutual organisation, LGSS, which has not been privatised.

“Frankly our record is what people should be looking at,” he added.

And Conservative candidate for Northampton North Michael Ellis, called Labour’s devolution plans ‘hypocritical and self-serving’.

“It would just create more tiers of bureaucracy,” he added. “Every time one of their party spokespeople comes to Northampton to talk about devolving powers to local government, I think how can you say that when your party is against preventing Scottish MPs voting on English policies?”