North Northants unitary is moving closer as councils start to agree preferences

East Northamptonshire Council agreed preferences for the new unitary last night.
East Northamptonshire Council agreed preferences for the new unitary last night.

A significant step in Northamptonshire’s move towards unitary governance took place last night as East Northamptonshire Council became the first in the north of the county to agree its preferences.

After months of meetings between chief officers and leaders of all eight Northamptonshire councils a shared set of preferences about how the new unitaries will be formed and their make-up have been drawn up.

Last night (Feb 25) at an extraordinary council meeting held at its offices in Cedar House, Thrapston, East Northamptonshire Council gave its full backing to the plan.

These preferences will be now be sent to the secretary of state for local government James Brokenshire who will make the final decision on whether a unitary system will replace the current county, borough and district system in Northamptonshire.

The timeline being worked to is to have the new unitaries, one for the north and one for the west, in place for April 2020 with elections in May that year. Shadow authorities are expected to be set up this summer.

The preferences include 78 councillors on the new north Northants unitary and that 15 existing councillors (three from each of the districts and boroughs plus three from the county council) will make up the shadow executive. This board will appoint the new chief executive officer.

It also includes a ‘section 24 direction’ which means that once unitary is legally agreed, any of the eight Northamptonshire councils will need written consent from the secretary of state for land disposals and entering into contracts worth more than £100,000.

And after the first election is held in 2020 there will not be another until 2025.

Leader of East Northamptonshire Council Steven North said: “We had a good discussion about the content of the Structural Change Order and feel that the restriction on spending over a certain level makes good sense as it prevents anyone going into large new contractual arrangements that would bind a successor authority.

“We also feel that the numbers of councillors proposed for the new authority and the equal spread from each current authority means that residents are fairly represented. It shows strength of unity and realisation that it is a proper shadow executive of all five councils and there isn’t a cabinet acting alone.”

Wellingborough Council will vote on the unitary preferences tonight (Feb26), Corby tomorrow evening (Feb27) and Kettering on March 8.

The next steps are for the secretary of state to make his decision, which is expected in the coming weeks. Then joint committees will be established and once a legal process called a Structural Change Order is put before Parliament two shadow authorities will be created.

It is not known at this stage where the headquarters for the new unitaries will be based.