Historic first North Northamptonshire Council meeting marks 'new era' for county

There had been persistent rumours of a huge Conservative fallout in the days leading up to the meeting

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 7:45 am
New leader of Northants County Council Jason Smithers

The first meeting of North Northamptonshire Council has took place last night with the annual general meeting marking a chance for the authority to become a 'powerhouse' according to its first ever leader.

In the lead up to the meeting there had been rumours of a rift in the Conservative group on the new council - set up in the wake of the failure of Northamptonshire County Council - but any issues were left at the door as councillors presented a united front behind leader Cllr Jason Smithers.

Welcoming the old and new councillors to the Kettering Conference Centre meeting, Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire James Saunders Watson said: "This is a very exciting moment as the county moves into a new era of local government, the first significant change since 1974, a generation or two ago.

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The meeting cost £14,000 because of the Covid restrictions needed to keep members socially-distanced.

"The path ahead, I am sure will have its twists and turns. However, this is a wonderful moment to define a new future of a new council with clear ambitions and priorities."

After being confirmed as leader of the council, Cllr Jason Smithers gave his 'heartfelt thanks' to Cllr Russell Roberts for his hard work as shadow council leader adding that the challenges of the last year had seen many people parted from their loved ones far too early. He paid tribute to the hard work of the NHS workers during the pandemic.

"We are committed to delivering for this council and the residents who have put their trust in us," he said.

"This council has embarked on a journey to develop a new culture that aims to put residents first, place members at the very heart of decision making and create a culture where staff are supported and encouraged to be their very best.

Cllr John McGhee proposed an amendment allowing committees to vote for their own chairs and deputies

"North Northamptonshire has the potential to be great council, an award winning council where staff want to work.

"Let's make this council a powerhouse."

Cllr Martin Griffiths, former deputy leader of the shadow authority, sent his apologies to the meeting after a fall-out over the deputy position. He later said he had witnessed 'political skulduggery' in the run up to the vote.

Cllr Tim Partridge-Underwood and Cllr Jan O'Hara were also unable to attend.

Chairman Cllr Paul Bell

Leader of the Labour party Jean Addison wished Cllr Smithers well and said that she hoped the Conservative party would work with the other parties in order to create a transparent authority.

Cllr John McGhee, deputy leader of the Labour group, said that he had concerns about local area planning committees which are supposed to be politically balanced. In Corby, it was recommended by the leader that the area planning committee is chaired and deputised by a Conservative member despite the area having 12 Labour councillors and only three Conservative members.

Cllr McGhee said: "That's not the voice of the Corby people. That chair and vice-chair should be Labour and I'm hoping common sense prevails. They should select the chairman and the vice-chair on their first meeting."

His proposed amendment to allow committees to select their own chairs was voted down by a large Conservative majority.

The meeting was held at Kettering Conference Centre

Independent member Cllr Jim Hakewill said that he had been concerned about doubt over whether the scrutiny chairs would be opposition members.

"I'm very pleased to see that Cllr Mark Pengelly is shown as chairman of the finance scrutiny committee," adding that he believed vice-chairs should also be opposition members. He proposed a motion proposing that but it was voted down by the Conservative members of the council during a recorded vote.

The Chair of Scrutiny was named as Cllr Wendy Brackenbury and the Chair of Finance Scrutiny was named as Cllr Mark Pengelly. The scrutiny chair issue had been contested last week by concerned opposition members.

Who are the new executive members of the council?

Leader of the Council, Cllr Jason Smithers - member for Oundle, the owner of a cafe in Higham Ferrers who has had a meteoric rise after only having been elected a county councillor three years ago.

Chairman of the authority, Cllr Paul Bell - member for Brickhill and Queensway ward in Wellingborough and a former ledader of Wellingborough Council. He's been a councillor for 17 years and is a retired engineering craftsman.

Deputy Chairman, Cllr Larry Henson - member for Kettering's Wicksteed Ward. He's been a borough and county councillor and is a former Metropolitan Police officer.

Highways, travel and assets, Cllr Graham Lawman - member for Hatton Park and one half of the Lawman power-couple along with wife Lora. Former Wellingborough councillor and a big football fan.

Children, families and education and skills, Cllr Scott Edwards - former Northamptonshire County Councillor for Wicksteed ward and the current Kettering mayor.

Public health and wellbeing, Cllr Helen Harrison - Oundle Ward Councillor, physiotherapist, former senior parliamentary assistant for MP Peter Bone who is her partner.

Finance and transformation, Cllr Lloyd Bunday - businessman and consultant, member for Ise ward in Kettering. Also a member of Kettering Town Council.

Growth and regeneration, Cllr Steven North - Rushden North member and leader of East Northants council for more than a decade.

Sport, leisure, culture and tourism, and deputy leader of the council Cllr Helen Howell - Raunds member and company director, mum, events chair.

Housing and Community, Cllr Andy Mercer - former East Northants Councillor, town councillor and software company director. Rushden South member.

Rural committees and localism, Cllr David Howes - Desborough ward councillor. Former Kettering Borough councillor and town councillor.

Climate and green environment, Cllr Harriet Pentland - Parliamentary assistant to MP Tom Pursglove and former East Northants district councillor. Representing her home town of Higham Ferrers.