The leader of Northampton BC has said he is “extremely concerned” over the future of local government reorganisation in Northamptonshire, warning that the long-term sustainability of any future council is not being properly considered.
Jonathan Nunn (Con) spoke with LGC of the “danger” of passing Northamptonshire CC’s debts on to any newly-created unitaries without providing any additional resource.
Cllr Nunn said: “There is a danger that we’ll create councils that just won’t be financially sustainable if we’re not careful. We’re passing that [financial debt] on without actually adding anything that solves the problem. Even when you throw in the operating savings from a unitary authority… you still have a large funding gap.”
Districts want to create a “residual body” to take on any leftover debts from the county council once it is formally abolished.
Yet according to Cllr Nunn, the government has said it has no intention of creating this body and any existing debt must be transferred to the new councils.
“If those debts are to be transferred onto the two new councils then there is a danger of just causing the same problem [in the future]. We know of things that are causing huge financial problems at the county council and if you simply split them into two councils then you’re not going to necessarily improve the situation,” he said.
Many of the districts’ more radical ideas are likely to be dismissed by the government, said Cllr Nunn.
“In their invitation for proposals for unitary government across the county, the phrase used is: ’have due regard for Max Caller’s interpretations’,” Cllr Nunn said, referencing the best value inspection report for Northamptonshire CC, published in March.
“We’ve interpreted that as ‘obey’ the recommendations,” he said.
Dorset recently agreed a reorganisation deal with the government having started discussions in 2016, while Northamptonshire’s councils have until 27 July to respond to Mr Caller’s proposals for one council covering Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough BCs and East Northamptonshire Council, and another council covering Daventry DC, Northampton BC, and South Northamptonshire Council.
Cllr Nunn said: “I suppose the concerns are that we’re triggering this on the back of a crisis, rather than taking a proper thoughtful look at what the best options moving forward are.”
A Deloitte report into possible unitary options, commissioned by the county’s seven districts and published last week, found the creation of three unitary authorities, including one for Northampton to be the most preferable outcome. However, Cllr Nunn said: “We’re fearful that we won’t get any political traction if we make a submission for a Northampton town unitary alone.”