Local leaders in Northamptonshire have recommended that the county is split into two unitary councils, as proposed by government-appointed inspector Max Caller.
As reported by LGC yesterday, the proposal would see one council in the west of the county cover Corby, Kettering, and Wellingborough BCs and East Northamptonshire Council, with the other in the east covering Daventry DC, Northampton BC, and South Northamptonshire Council.
This option was first proposed by Mr Caller in March after Northamptonshire CC, in February, became the first council in almost two decades to issue a section 114 notice. Commissioners have since been sent in to oversee some of the county council’s functions.
The proposed council in the west would have a population of 343,600, while the council in the east would have a population of 402,000.
A report, published this afternoon by all Northamptonshire councils, says the preferred option was “not out of positive ambition for this radical structural change, but instead out of a pragmatic and responsible approach to the government’s clearly signalled direction of travel”.
It warned that although the proposed structures would deliver some cost savings, they would not create two new sustainable councils.
“Indeed, it potentially risks only redistributing the existing financial instability of [Northamptonshire CC] across two new organisations, unless steps are taken to address the existing cost and income challenges,” the report added.
The councils suggest setting up a “residual body” with precepting powers to limit the financial risk and ensure the new councils are able to set budgets and “do not have to carry the historic legacy of both NCC and the districts and boroughs”.
The report also raised concerns over the “significant” cost of reorganisation and the transformation of services, while adding mechanisms must be put in place to ensure sufficient infrastructure investment.
A survey found most residents support the option for two unitary councils. However, while an ‘open questionnaire’ showed limited support in Corby and majority opposition West Northamptonshire, where a three-unitary option was preferred. This option was rejected as the government requirement for new unitary councils to have a population of at least 300,000 could not be met.
Housing and communities secretary James Brokenshire will now consider the proposal but the councils said they will commence with the “design and planning” stage immediately as the timeline for implementing the new councils on 1 April 2020 is described as “very tight”.
Each council in the county will meet in the week commencing 27 August to discuss and vote on the proposal. Northamptonshire CC’s councillors will meet on 28 August.