Legislation for new Northamptonshire councils finally laid before parliament – but election talk leaves timetable uncertain

The new legislation that will formally kick-start the reorganisation of local government in Northamptonshire has finally been laid before Parliament.

Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 11:33 am
The new unitary legislation for Northamptonshire has been laid before parliament. Photo by Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The piece of legislation, known as the Structural Change Order, confirms North Northamptonshire Council and West Northamptonshire Council as the new names for the councils; that the existing district, borough and county councils will be abolished on April 1, 2021; and that elections will be held for them a year before they start in May 2020.

The draft order will now be considered and debated by both Houses of Parliament and if approved, should become legislation by the end of the year.

However, there is uncertainty over the timetable as talk of a general election heats up, and it may be that Parliament is dissolved if that goes ahead.

But council leaders believe that the legislation is likely to get waived through even if an election takes place in a ‘wrap-up process’ that means it would be passed prior to the vote unless there were any objections.

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Outgoing Daventry District Council leader Councillor Chris Millar told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “The Structural Change Order needs to get through Parliament and it’s the first stage that needs to take place to start the unitaries.

“If we have a general election then my understanding is that this will go into wrap-up business. It’s not a perfect art, they have a wrap-up process where some business will be put through unless there are objections and I don’t think this is controversial from a central government point of view.”

That turn of events is looking increasingly likely given news this morning that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appears to now support proposals for an election now that a No Deal Brexit has been ruled out.

However, the process is not as clear should anyone wish to object to the proposals. And one solitary council – Corby Council – did not lend its support to the proposals sent to the government last summer.

Should the Structural Change Order be passed, two temporary Shadow Authorities – one each for the North and West – will be formed in May 2020 with responsibility for delivering the new unitary councils and setting their first budgets and council tax. Until then, the joint committees currently in place in the North and West will continue to take responsibility for putting unitary plans in place.

Elections for the unitary councils will be held in May 2020 with councillors serving a five-year term, with their first year on the shadow authorities. There will be 78 councillors elected for the North and 93 for the West.

Parish council elections will go ahead in May 2020 too but the district and borough elections will not take place so current members will serve until their existing councils are abolished. This means some district and borough councillors will have served two additional years on top of the four-year term they were supposed to serve.