Behind-closed doors proposals could increase number of North Northants councillors to 99

The committee says only the wealthy or retired may be able to act as councillors

By Kate Cronin
Monday, 28th March 2022, 8:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 29th March 2022, 7:36 pm
North Northamptonshire Council is proposing raising the number of members to 99

North Northamptonshire Council is considering a increasing its number of councillors to 99.

The authority has 78 councillors across 26 wards but says this isn’t enough and an immediate uplift to 88 is needed to ‘spread the load’, with 99 necessary within a decade.

Inspector Max Caller, who produced a report following the collapse of Northamptonshire County Council, stated only 45 councillors would be necessary.

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The Democracy and Standards Committee set up a cross-party electoral review working group following last year’s council reorganisation to look at the total number of elected members, the number of councillors in each ward and ward boundaries. They held a behind-closed-doors briefing last week to tell councillors of their initial findings.

They said there was an immediate need to increase the number of members to 88, and to further increase the number to 99 by 2032 to account for a projected 13 per cent population increase in North Northamptonshire between now and 2041.

They say an ageing population will have more dependence on elected members and an increase in numbers is necessary to prevent councillors suffering stress-related illnesses. They also want to avoid a council made up of ‘professional councillors’ who are wealthy or retired.

NNC wants to increase the number of committees and groups to scrutinise their work, but claims members are already spending around 42 hours per week in their roles and struggling to fit them around other employment. They say there are already difficulties finding enough members to sit on committees.

Members of the working group were due to meet privately again yesterday (Monday, March 28). Chair Cllr Lora Lawman told councillors at last week’s briefing: “We took into consideration the cross-party views, the data available from Office for National Statistics and also our own councillor survey to assess the average workload of a councillor and made an effort to ensure that, in future, North Northamptonshire Council will be able to draw on younger councillors and make membership available to all as well as manageable by all.

"There are obvious areas, such as remuneration that, in our joint view, must be similar to other employment councillors may hold. If the workload is too high, it could preclude or limit employment, care giving/receiving..”

The proposals will get their first public airing at the Democracy and Standards Committee next month and will eventually go out to public consultation. They will need to be ratified by Parliament ahead of local authority elections in 2025.

The Green Alliance consultation response states they have found ‘no evidence’ as to why a figure of 78 councillors was originally selected and proposes reducing the number to 60. Labour would like to see numbers increase to between 82 and 86.

Former Conservative Wellingborough Council leader Cllr Martin Griffiths, who now sits as an independent, said: “I’ve just read the report with incredulity.

"The draft has all the hallmarks of empire building by the Conservative-led administration and the boundary commission will surely see right through this.

"Increasing the number of councillors will cost council tax payers even more at a time when we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.”