Discussions about local government reorganisation in Northamptonshire are to begin in earnest next spring, LGC has been told.
Northamptonshire CC has alerted the seven boroughs and districts in the county in the hope leaders will be able to explore options in detail after elections in May.
The county, one of the most cash-strapped in the country, has predicted savings of up to £29m a year could be realised by abolishing districts and creating a single county unitary, based on County Councils Network research which suggested creating single county-wide unitary councils in current two-tier areas could save up to £2.9bn nationally over five years.The county’s business plan and medium term financial strategy, discussed at cabinet yesterday, highlights potential savings of £10m a year in 2019-20 and 2020-2021 from moving to a unitary model.
Northamptonshire’s leader Heather Smith (Con) insisted the county’s survival was not dependent on the proposals becoming a reality.
Cllr Smith, who wrote to district and borough leaders ahead of the business plan being published, told LGC: “We have all had vague discussions on and off over a number of years [about local government reorganisation] and it always becomes acrimonious.
“Putting the savings into the budget is providing focus to try and get people around the table over what really is in the best interests of the public purse in general.”
If a county unitary, which would represent about 710,000 residents, was to become a reality, Cllr Smith said she would want to see more “powerful” town councils created with devolved budgets and responsibilities.
However, “big ticket” functions such as children and adult services should be held at a “strategic” level, said Cllr Smith.
She said she was “waiting for a steer from government” on how, if at all, it wants areas to reorganise, but added she was open to exploring options other than a county unitary.
“I’m waiting to see what the government is going to do about Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, and others before I waste too much time and money and end up with an almighty falling out,” said Cllr Smith.
Buckinghamshire CC has published plans to create a county unitary which it believes could save £18m a year which have won praise from communities secretary Sajid Javid. Districts have since responded by saying they would like two unitary authorities, based on a north/south split of Buckinghamshire.
Writing for LGC last week, Oxfordshire CC’s leader Ian Hudspeth (Con) said he would shortly publish draft proposals for a single-unitary council for the county.