The “worst option” for Northamptonshire would be a countywide unitary authority the heads of districts and boroughs in the county said following a summit today.
Last week, county MPs sent a joint letter to the heads of each council in Northamptonshire asking them to consider scrapping the current two-tier system and entering talks about establishing unitary authorities.
Some believe the move could save the taxpayer £80 million in the county, but today the first blows have been exchanged in exactly how the unitary council borders should be drawn up.
The leaders of districts and boroughs in Northampton, Corby, Daventry, East Northants, Kettering, Wellingborough and South Northants, have issued a joint statement following a meeting on the matter today.
In it the chiefs slammed Northamptonshire County Council leader Jim Harker’s suggestion that his “preferred” option for the county would be to have one large unitary authority covering all parts of public service.
The joint statement, released after the meeting which was not attended by anyone from the county council, says: “Firstly, it’s important to recognise that we haven’t opened this debate, but now it is open, we will work together to establish what is going to be the best for local people and places.
“One thing that is clear; everyone – other than the county council – agrees that the worst option is a countywide unitary. It is also clear that all the MPs for the county – who are not partisan in this – concur with that sentiment.
“We will be working very closely together to develop the best possible option for local people and places.”
But a counter-punch has been thrown back by soon-to-be leader of Northamptonshire County Council, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle).
She says the district leaders have been too hasty in dismissing the idea of one large unitary authority.
She said: “We were interested to read the statement from the district and borough council outlining what they don’t want to see in order to simplify local government in the county.
“It is interesting to read so early in these considerations that one option has been completely and unilaterally ruled out by our district and borough partners and we would be interested to see the analysis which has led to this dismissal of this option.
“We would rather focus on what is required rather than simply ruling options out with no discussion.”