Kettering and East Northants councils vote for unitary plan

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Two councils in the north of the county voted last night (August 29) to start on the journey towards unitary authorities.

Councillors on Kettering Council and East Northants Council followed in the footsteps of Wellingborough Council and decided to put forward a joint submission to Secretary of State for local government James Brokenshire for two unitary councils in Northamptonshire.

Theses two unitaries, one in the north and one in the west, are now looking likely to replace the eight councils that make up the two-tier system which has been in existence in Northants since 1974.

In a lively meeting at Kettering Council councillors from all political parties had their say and expressed their regret at the ending of the borough, which has been recommended by government following the financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council.

Leader of the Conservative-run council Russell Roberts said the move to unitary was inevitable.

Asking councillors to look forward he said: “Now is not the time for recrimination or looking back. The Government has said if we wish not to take part then the process will go on without us.

“The key issue front and centre is the fiscal sustainability of the county’s local governance structure.”

The leader proposed a motion that is being put before each of the county’s eight council’s this week.

East Northamptonshire Council also approved the proposal last night and Northamptonshire County Council backed the bid on Tuesday (Aug 28).

This leaves Corby, South Northants and Daventry to have their say tonight (Aug 30).

However the bid will go forward no matter what these three authorities decide, as only one council needed to back the proposal in order for it to be submitted to the Government.

Kettering’s Labour councillors were against the proposal, citing the lack of consultation and the speed at which central government is ordering the change.

Labour leader Mick Scrimshaw said: “The ramifications will be felt for years to come. Unitary could well be a way forward but generally this only works when all partners have had enough time to prepare proper plans.”

Central government told the councils this spring to start unitary discussions and has put forward a tight timescale to have unitaries in place by 2020.

Labour Cllr Anne Lee said: “We all know in our guts that this is wrong. That it is inevitable does not make it right. We are being sleepwalked into a disaster.”

Liberal Democrat Cllr Andrew Dutton questioned the Government’s reasoning for dictating that each new unitary authority must have at least 300,000 residents. He told the council chamber that Rutland unitary provides services to just 40,000 residents.

Conservative Cllr Philip Hollobone, who is also the town’s MP, said he would be working with the county’s six other MPs to lobby central government for more financial support to pay for the unitary reorganisation.

But he was clear that the unitary situation has been brought about by a failing county council rather than any central government plan or austerity agenda.

He said: “Everyone in this chamber is beyond angry. Angry with Conservative councillors in Conservative cabinets who consistently made wrong decisions about how the council should be run.”

The bid will be sent to central government this Friday. Steps to set up shadow authorities will then take place and elections for the new unitaries are expected in May 2020.

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporting Service