New cabinet member appointed to oversee local government reorganisation – 13 months after role was scrapped

Councillor Wendy Brackenbury has been appointed to the cabinet and charged with being responsible for the transition to two new unitary councilsCouncillor Wendy Brackenbury has been appointed to the cabinet and charged with being responsible for the transition to two new unitary councils
Councillor Wendy Brackenbury has been appointed to the cabinet and charged with being responsible for the transition to two new unitary councils | jpimedia
A cabinet position has been reinstated at Northamptonshire County Council to specifically deal with the reorganisation of local government – just over a year after the role was previously scrapped as it was ‘not needed’.

Councillor Wendy Brackenbury has been appointed by leader Councillor Matt Golby as the new cabinet member for local government reorganisation, and will become the eighth elected member to have a specific brief.

It means Councillor Brackenbury, who represents the Thrapston ward and is also a district councillor on East Northamptonshire Council, will be the councillor overseeing the transition to two new unitary authorities.

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She is effectively the second person to fill the role, after Dr Andy Mercer was removed from a similar cabinet role in March 2019. At that time, Dr Mercer told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he was informed in an email detailing his removal that there was ‘no longer thought to be a need for a cabinet member for government transformation’.

Thirteen months on however, there appears to have been a change of view on that within the Conservative administration, which has resulted in Councillor Brackenbury’s appointment.

The county council, and the seven existing district and borough councils in Northamptonshire, will all be abolished next April. They are set to effectively merge into two new councils – called West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire.

That decision came after a government appointed inspector, Max Caller, recommended scrapping the county council after it fell into a financial crisis. After the appointment of four new government commissioners, and an upheaval of senior staff, it has since managed to recover its position but finances remain fragile.

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Elections had been due to take place in May to elect the new councillors for the unitary authorities. The councillors would have spent the first of their four year term as ‘shadow councillors’ helping to prepare the new council and working behind the scenes before it was officially launched on April 1, 2021.

But those elections have now been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, existing district and borough councillors will now act as the shadow councillors. Most of those councillors will have served six years by the time the elections are held next year, two more than they had been democratically elected for.

According to her profile page on the county council website, Councillor Brackenbury was born and educated in Northamptonshire before serving in the Royal Navy both in the UK and abroad. She moved back to the county in 1997 to bring up her young family.

She became a county councillor in 2013, winning her Thrapston seat after a boundary change and retaining the seat in 2017. Since 2014 she has also been on Kettering General Hospital’s council of governors.

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She had also been the vice-chairman of the county council, but has had to step down from that role as she cannot hold the position while a cabinet member. A new vice-chairman will be elected when the council next meets.

Councillor Brackenbury will also have to step down as a member of the overview and scrutiny committee, which helps hold the cabinet to account and scrutinises council decisions.

She could make her first appearance as a cabinet member at this afternoon’s cabinet meeting at 2pm – the first ‘virtual’ meeting to be held in the council’s history which will be streamed online.

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