Corby Council says no to unitary authorities bid

The meeting took place at Corby Cube last night
The meeting took place at Corby Cube last night

Corby Council has decided that it won’t go down without a fight after every single councillor said no to putting forward a bid to central government for a unitary authority.

There were passionate speeches at the Labour-run council last night (Thursday) as all 29 members spoke out against the Government’s suggestion that all the councils in Northants should be scrapped after the financial failing of the county council and replaced with two unitaries.

But the joint bid will still go ahead and arrive in the Secretary of State for local government James Brokenshire’s in-tray today (Friday) as all seven other councils in the county have backed unitaries.

There is very little chance that Corby can refuse to become part of a unitary.

Corby councillors voted against the bid in response to a public consultation in the town which found 95 per cent of respondents were against the borough council being abolished.

Speaking at the meeting Cllr leader Tom Beattie said the bid was flawed and he did not feel assured that if unitaries were created they would be financially viable. It looks likely they will carry the huge debt (perhaps up to £1bn) that belongs to the county council.

He said: “From holding our own consultation it was clear that a unitary authority was not an option that the people of Corby nor the borough council willingly wanted to be part of. However, as more than one other local authority within Northamptonshire has opted to sign up, the proposals will now go forward and be submitted to the Government.

“It is now vital that Corby contributes to how these new authorities will form and ensure that we get the best services, outcome and future for the people of our borough. In order for us to be at the table and part of the conversations that will shape Northamptonshire’s future we have agreed to deploy resources required to progress work on the next step.’

There were many passionate speeches from the councillors including from the Conservative members who spoke out against their county council colleagues and also the national government.

Cllr Rob McKellar said any new unitary would not be like a phoenix rising from the ashes but a phoenix roasted in the fire.

He said: “We, as elected councillors, are put in to obey our constituents. They could not have been clearer. Corby has a unique culture and it is different to its neighbours.”

Corby’s transformation from devastated 1980s steel town to today’s thriving community was often cited by councillors throughout the meeting at Corby Cube.

Cllr Mary Butcher said: “Corby worked its way back from the 1980s and is now a beautiful town. This unitary proposal is undemocratic. This borough has not voted for this. We are being forced to go down a line we did not want to go down.”

Cllr Matthew Reay said: “Our job is to do the best by our residents. When they speak in the way that they have then we must listen.”

Cllr Bob Eyles questioned whether a unitary would lead to a decline in Corby’s fortunes, saying: “I wonder what will be left in five years if we have this county council debt hanging over the unitaries? Will we have any leisure facilities? I am sure a new unitary will be asset stripping unless it starts with a clean sheet.”

As the only Labour-run council in the county there are fears that Corby could be poorly represented if it becomes part of a unitary authority which also looks after Kettering, Wellingborough and East Northants.

Cllr Mark Pengelly criticised the county’s seven MPs who he said had voted year after year for funding cuts to local government.

He said: “Staff have done nothing wrong and they will lose their jobs. Corby people have done nothing wrong and they will lose services. Our MP should be listening and stand up in Parliament and say no to unitary.”

Following Corby’s refusal to sign the joint bid the secretary of state will consult with the council.

The current plan is to have  elections to the proposed two new unitaries in May 2020.

Sarah Ward , Local Democracy Reporter