'No change' in forecast £44million cost to set up Northamptonshire unitary authorities

The financial crisis at Northamptonshire County Council led to the recommendation of replacing it with two new councils
The financial crisis at Northamptonshire County Council led to the recommendation of replacing it with two new councils

The officer in charge of reorganising local government in Northamptonshire has said there has been ‘no change’ in the forecast budget of £44million to set up two new unitary authorities.

In February, the Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed that the estimated costs of setting up the new councils for West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire had risen by £14million from the original £30million estimate.

At that point Councillor Matt Golby, the leader of Northamptonshire County Council - which is set to be abolished along with the district and borough councils to make way for the new authorities - said he was ‘alarmed by the ever increasing cost’.

But three months on, a new report seen by councillors states that there has been ‘no change in the budget forecast’. It also reveals that £730,000 has already been spent, despite the government not yet officially endorsing the proposals.

The report from Keith Cheesman, the recently appointed programme director for the reorganisation, will be discussed by councillors at the next West Northamptonshire Joint Committee meeting, which will take place at the Daventry District Council offices on Tuesday evening (May 14).

The report indicates that of the £730,000 currently spent, £680,000 has been on ‘programme management’ and £50,000 on ‘consultancy’.

It adds: “Some quick wins have already been identified and implemented such as sharing skilled resources between authorities and maximising increased purchasing power for procurement cost savings.”

The unitary authority proposals were submitted by seven of the eight local councils in Northamptonshire last summer, as a result of the Max Caller report into the financial crisis at Northamptonshire County Council.

It will see a West Northamptonshire council set up for Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Daventry; and a North Northamptonshire Council formed covering Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough and East Northants.

Despite being largely railroaded in that direction by the government, local officials are becoming increasingly agitated that Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP is continuing to delay a decision on whether to formally approve the proposals. It was initially expected a decision would be made by the end of March.

The last Joint Committee meeting heard concerns that parliament’s focus on Brexit was contributing to the delay, and may hold up the intended start date of April 2020 for the new councils.

The revised £44million costs will see £7.9million spent on redundancies, £5.3million on consultancy and £6.9million on property, but detailed breakdowns of what exactly this would entail is not yet in the public domain.

The costs of setting up the new councils are set to be looked at in more detail by the county council’s scrutiny committee. Last month its chairman, Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Stanbra, said that councillors were ‘being kept in the dark’ over the costings.