Wellingborough Council gives its backing to unitary bid

Wellingborough Council met at Swanspool House last night (Tuesday)
Wellingborough Council met at Swanspool House last night (Tuesday)

A unitary proposal for Northamptonshire will be submitted to the Government at the end of this week after Wellingborough Council decided last night (Tuesday) to back the bid.

Councillors from both the ruling Conservative group and the Labour opposition put political differences aside and voted to join together with Northamptonshire County Council and put forward the proposal to the secretary of state for local government James Brokenshire.

The two-tier governance system that has been in place in the county since 1974 now looks almost certain to be scrapped and replaced in 2020 by a unitary system.

Central government had asked all eight of Northamptonshire’s councils to work together to put together a unitary plan after the county council’s financial difficulties came to light.

At last night’s meeting the blame for the impending abolition of the county’s boroughs and districts was laid firmly at the door of the county council, which is now widely recognised as the worst performing authority in the country.

Leader of Wellingborough Council Martin Griffiths, who is also a county councillor, said: “Northamptonshire is a wealth shire.

“We should not be in this position.

“We have got to rebuild the reputation of this county.”

Conservative Cllr Paul Bell, who has been a county councillor, was damning in his condemnation of the Conservative-run county council.

He said: “The loss of the county council is no hardship.

“What is a loss is the borough council.

“If any other senior county councillors who were part of the former cabinet had any guts they would resign their seats and leave.”

Long-serving councillor Tom Partridge-Underwood said he wished he had a badge declaring he was not a county councillor as any recent complaints he has had from residents were about the county council.

In a move away from the situation at NCC yesterday in which opposition councillors voted against the unitary bid, the Labour opposition joined with the Conservatives to vote for the new unitaries.

Labour leader Cllr Andrew Scarborough said: “It is a very sad day for Wellingborough Council.

“It has been well run by both parties.

“There have been arguments but it has always balanced its books.

“I will be deeply sad to see it go.

“But I’m afraid, go it must.”

Both Cllr Bell and Cllr Griffiths called for the new unitary to have a committee system in place rather than the cabinet system that has been favoured by NCC.

The other six councils will have their say on the unitary proposals today (Wednesday) and tomorrow.

It is by no means a foregone conclusion how they will vote and it is widely thought that Corby Council could follow the results of its public consultation and vote against the bid.

It is unclear where this would leave Corby in any unitary discussions.

Once the proposal is submitted to central government the journey towards unitary will then begin.

Both Houses of Parliament will have to a approve a bid to suspend elections for 2019 and move them to 2020 when it is expected two unitaries would be introduced to cover Northants.

One unitary would provide services for the west and the other would provide services for the north.

The cost of the next steps is expected to cost £4 million, with each council being asked to stump up £500,000 in the near future.