Consultancy firm Deloitte has been commissioned to look into reorganising Northamptonshire with at least two district leaders and one MP preferring a two-unitary model.
A one unitary model, which has been mooted by Northamptonshire CC this week, would not be supported by borough and district councils and was only popular with the county as a way of “trying to save its own skin”, Kettering MP Philip Hollobone (Con) told LGC.
He said: “I think it’s likely the inspector [former Boundary Commission chair Max Caller] will recommend a reorganisation of local government - and a likely outcome is going to be a two-unitary model under a ‘North [Northamptonshire]’ and a ‘West Northamptonshire’.
“One unitary is not in the best interests of public service delivery. It’s never enjoyed popular support outside the county council.”
Northamptonshire CC’s director of finance Mark McLaughlin had proposed a single unitary authority in a budget report to go before Northamptonshire CC cabinet next Tuesday.
The county council “has very limited scope to address its forecast medium-term funding shortfall structured in its current form”, Mr McLaughlin said. “Only significant local government reorganisation, moving to a unitary status, would provide the opportunity to reduce its costs significantly over the coming years.”
The county council issued a Section 114 order on Friday, imposing immediate spending controls.
The leader of Corby BC Tom Beattie (Lab) told LGC that his council had consistently expressed opposition to the idea of a single unitary authority.
“This is not the silver bullet to the dire situation Northamptonshire CC finds itself in, which is the result of chronic underfunding by central government combined with seriously flawed political and corporate decision making by Northamptonshire CC themselves over recent years,” said Cllr Beattie.
Winston Strachan (Lab), chair of Northamptonshire CC’s environment, development and transport scrutiny committee, said it was “very likely” the inspector will split the county into two unitary authorities.
Northampton South MP Andrew Lewer (Con) told LGC that leaders and chief executives of the seven borough and district councils in Northamptonshire, along with the county’s MPs, met with representatives of Deloitte UK on 26 January. He said Deloitte had been “commissioned to produce a report about [the] possible future local government structure in the county”.
He added: “One of the outcomes of this meeting was that all parties resolved to wait until the report was published before attempting to reach a fully settled view on the issue.”
However, LGC has been told that one possible combination of councils under a two-unitary model could see Corby BC, East Northamptonshire Council, Kettering BC, and Wellingborough BC form a council for ‘North Northamptonshire’, while Daventry DC, Northampton BC, and South Northamptonshire Council could form a council for ‘West Northamptonshire’.
Ian McCord (Con), leader of South Northamptonshire Council, said he is wary of creating unsustainable unitary councils.
“We await the inspector’s findings in March to see what that means for the county as a whole, and how it will affect critical service provision,” Cllr McCord said. “Any potential efficiencies from local government reorganisation will not be close to the much larger amounts needed to fund the increasing costs and shortfalls in the areas of social care.”
One councillor, who did not want to be named, said it “wasn’t right” that any reorganisation would disproportionately affect borough and district councils.
“All sorts of tricks have been played by the county and the only ones who will have to pay are the taxpayers and the districts,” the councillor said.