Wellingborough leader resigns position as assistant on county council cabinet over unitary row

Councillor Martin Griffiths, who is both a borough and county councillor, has resigned as an assistant member of the county council cabinet
Councillor Martin Griffiths, who is both a borough and county councillor, has resigned as an assistant member of the county council cabinet

A borough council leader has resigned his position as an assistant member of county council leader Matt Golby’s cabinet in a row over preparations for the new unitary authorities.

Borough Council of Wellingborough leader Councillor Martin Griffiths sent his resignation letter to Councillor Golby this afternoon, and told him he had ‘reduced trust’ between the county and district borough councils by reneging on a promise for equal representation in a joint committee that will help shape the future councils.

County council leader Matt Golby has faced heavy criticism from Conservative colleagues about his decision

County council leader Matt Golby has faced heavy criticism from Conservative colleagues about his decision

Councillor Golby has faced stinging criticism after county council agendas were published showing that the authority wanted half of all the spaces allocated for councillors on the joint committees for North Northants and West Northants.

Steering groups for both the unitary areas had agreed on equal representation, and the changes were published without consultation with the leaders.

In his letter, for which a full transcript can be found at the bottom of this article, Councillor Griffiths writes: “Last week Councillor Golby made a decision that has disrupted the joint working arrangements, and reduced the trust between us that is essential moving forward.

“An email sent to all the district and borough leaders a few minutes before the publication of the cabinet papers stated that NCC required half the seats on the joint committee and shadow executive. The report claims that no agreement could be reached. In the North and West, an agreement was made with NCC and the districts and boroughs and thus was not reflected.

“As assistant cabinet member to Councillor Andy Mercer [on the county council], I am disappointed that I was not consulted on the contents of the cabinet report as this clearly is in line with my role in Local Government reform.”

Councillor Griffiths said the decision was one taken with ‘a heavy heart’, but that he felt he had ‘no choice’. The resignation does not affect his position as leader of the borough council in Wellingborough.

The joint committees are being set up to help with the mechanism of creating the two new unitary authorities, which are likely to be formed as a result of Max Caller’s report into the failing county council.

A steering group meeting, held behind closed doors, had agreed that Wellingborough, Kettering, Corby, East Northants and the county council would have three councillors each on the new joint committee.

And in West Northants, the steering group had agreed for four councillors each from the county, Daventry, South Northamptonshire and Northampton Borough.

The county council had agreed to both recommendations.

But cabinet papers posted earlier this week directly contradicted that agreement by stating that ‘it had not been possible to secure agreement’ on the composition of the committee. Instead, it proposed 24 members for each of the new joint committees, with the county council claiming 12 of them.

The proposals left district and borough councillors gobsmacked, and the backlash appears to have been so vociferous that the county council this morning cancelled at short notice the meeting on Thursday that was due to discuss them.

A county council spokesman said: “Following feedback regarding this issue, further time is now required to consider the matter.”

Councillor Golby added: “The meeting was to discuss and decide upon the representation on the shadow arrangements required for the transition to unitary governance in the county.

"Following feedback regarding this issue, further time is now required to consider the matter. We need to make sure that we’re taking the right decisions for the residents of the county given the progress we have made in dealing with the challenges facing the County Council."

MARTIN GRIFFITHS’ LETTER IN FULL TO MATT GOLBY

Dear Councillor Golby

It is with a heavy heart that, due to recent events I feel I have no choice but to tender my resignation as Assistant Cabinet Member for Local Government Reform and Transformation.

Since the publication of the Caller Report and the beginning of the unitary process, I have worked without favour with all partners, here at NCC and the districts and borough councils, to ensure the transition to unitary is a success for us all, but most importantly for those residents we serve.

At NCC I acknowledge that considerable progress has been made. It is remarkable that looking back to the position of NCC just 12 months ago we are now near to achieving an honest balanced position and I pay tribute to those who have made this happen. I am proud to have been associated with this transformation and played my small part in making such progress.

We need to continue to improve our situation and prepare for a sustainable future. We will work together to mend the reputation of Northamptonshire, a county that very sadly has become an example of failure in local government through no fault of the seven excellent district and borough councils.

As we move forward with colleagues in the North and the West to establish two unitary authorities, we will continue to implement mechanisms to streamline the process and make decisions for our residents.

In order to set up the shadow executive, there needs to first be a joint committee. The process of creating unitary authorities is well established, but the unique part of Northamptonshire’s proposal was that it was agreed out of need - not out of desire.

To date, all of our interactions with each other have been on the basis of equal partners. We have had Steering Group meetings in the North and West with members from each council in attendance. As a single group, in North Northants we have discussed, debated, formed a consensus and moved forward. I know that a similar approach has happened in the West too.

We have worked together with a great degree of success, demonstrating that all councils in the county can work together to serve our communities. We have broken down barriers and made strides to build trust with our partners who support the creation of two unitary authorities.

It is not easy and I wish to applaud all my leader colleagues in the districts and boroughs for compromises they have made. Last week, however, Cllr Matt Golby made a decision that has disrupted the joint working arrangements , and reduced the trust between us that is essential moving forward.

An email sent to all the district and borough leaders a few minutes before the publication of the cabinet papers stated that NCC required half the seats on the joint committee and shadow executive. The report claims that no agreement could be reached. In the North and West, an agreement was made with NCC and the districts and boroughs and thus was not reflected.

As assistant cabinet member to Cllr Andy Mercer, I am disappointed that I was not consulted on the contents of the cabinet report as this clearly is in line with my role in Local Government reform.

In order to have a brighter future, we need to work in true partnership with our district and borough colleagues. We need to consider the excellent staff across all councils in Northamptonshire who work for local government to make a real difference to people lives.

We must not put NCC first but instead ensure the residents of our county are considered first and foremost.

Creating two successful unitary authorities, in a very tight timescale, remains my number one priority and as I now tender my resignation as Assistant Cabinet Member at Northamptonshire County Council I will take my place along with my backbench colleagues.

In the months ahead I will do my utmost to ensure that we deliver sustainable high-quality services for our residents and that we continue to safeguard the most vulnerable people in our society. This should be the number one priority for all of us.

Councillor Martin Griffiths