Northamptonshire Local Government Reform

General

What is happening in Northamptonshire?

Under government proposals laid before Parliament, two new unitary councils are due to be created in Northamptonshire to provide all local government services in the county.

Subject to this parliamentary legislation being approved, the new unitary authorities will come into being on 1 April 2021 and Northamptonshire’s current eight councils will cease to exist.

The North Northamptonshire unitary will cover Corby, East Northants, Kettering and Wellingborough and the West Northamptonshire unitary will cover Daventry District, Northampton and South Northamptonshire. The existing district and borough councils and Northamptonshire County Council will all be abolished.

Before Parliament was dissolved for the December 2019 General Election, a Structural Changes Order 2019 (SCO) – which sets out how the two new unitary authorities will be formed to replace the existing eight councils on 1 April 2021 – was laid before Parliament.

The Order was considered by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and it has now been noted as an ‘instrument of interest’. It will now lay dormant until after the General Election, when it will then be considered by the new Government.

Work on the Future Northants programme will continue at the same pace working to the go live date of 1 April 2021.

How did this originate?

Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) has had significant financial challenges.

In January 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government at the time, Sajid Javid, appointed Max Caller to carry out a Best Value Inspection of NCC.

In his report, published in March 2018, Mr Caller concluded that NCC’s financial, cultural and governance problems could not be solved in isolation. He recommended plans be worked up for two unitary authorities to replace the current eight-authority, two-tier system consisting of NCC and the seven district and borough councils.

The Secretary of State invited proposals from any council or group of councils in the county, setting criteria that excluded a single countywide unitary, and that proposals for new authorities must be based on existing council boundaries, with each new authority having a population substantially more than 300,000.

Government also stated that the proposal must demonstrate clear potential for savings, prioritise the Government’s wider housing and growth agenda and command a good deal of local support.

What proposal did the councils make to the government?

Following a joint public consultation, the Northamptonshire Local Government Reform Proposal was submitted to the Secretary of State on 31 August 2018 by seven of the county’s eight local authorities (Corby Borough Council decided not to sign up to the proposal).

The proposal was for two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire, comprising the current area of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire; and North Northamptonshire, comprising the current areas of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough.

The government then carried out its own consultation into the proposal in December 2018 and January 2019.

Has a government decision now been made?

In May 2019 a decision was made by the then Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, who reviewed all the evidence and representations received and decided that replacing the eight councils with two unitary authorities is in the best interests of the residents of Northamptonshire.

Initially it was anticipated that the two new authorities would have come into force on 1 April 2020 (Vesting Day), but given the tight turnaround, it was decided the sensible decision would be to set Vesting Day to 1 April 2021.

Draft legislation to create the two new unitaries was laid before Parliament in October 2019. It has not been approved and will lay dormant for consideration by the new government following the December 2019 general election.

How did the public have their say in the process?

During summer 2018, all eight councils held a joint public consultation into future local government reform in Northamptonshire, focusing on the two-unitary model – the only option which met all of the Government’s criteria.

The joint consultation received over 5,000 responses and was used to help inform and develop the Northamptonshire Local Government Reform Proposal for a two-unitary model, which was submitted to the Government on 31 August 2018.

After the proposal was submitted, people had another opportunity to give their views in autumn 2018, when the government carried out its own consultation before making a decision.

Not all councils agreed to submit the proposal, so what happened?

The proposal was agreed and submitted in August 2018 by seven of the county’s eight local authorities, but Corby Borough Council decided not to.

The Secretary of State did not require every council to agree to the proposal for it to be submitted, and he considered the level of agreement that has been achieved when making his decision.

Corby’s decision not to sign up was recognised and respected by the other councils. This had an impact earlier on in the process of preparing for the new unitary councils as they were not included in the initial meetings; however, in autumn 2018 they decided to approve the proposals regarding funding and governance and have since been fully involved in the process.