‘Not enough time’ for boundary review before unitary elections

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The new North Northamptonshire unitary authority will elect councillors based on existing county wards and not on borough and district ward boundaries because there is not enough time for a full boundary review before the election.

It would normally be standard for a full Boundary Commission review to take place in these circumstances - but there is not enough time for that to happen before the proposed elections in a year’s time.

Some borough and district councillors are concerned that this will disadvantage some of their existing members while giving those already representing those wards on Northamptonshire County Council a leg-up.

The north of the county will have large wards each represented by three councillors - with a total of 78 councillors. The West will have 93 councillors.

It had originally been proposed that the unitary authorities would take full control next year, but that has now been delayed to May 2021.

Elections will take place in May 2020 for a shadow cabinet to begin the work of the unitaries and then those same councillors will continue in their roles when the full authority is set up the following year.

This means that councillors who are elected could serve for six years until 2026 when it is proposed the next elections will take place. Councillors are normally in place for just four years.

One insider said: “There is a feeling that people would like the county to take its time and get the wards right before we move to unitary.

“We should have a full boundary review and get it right in the first instance.

“It might be that some councillors lose their seats because the wards aren’t representative. It’s too late to do it in 2026 when councillors will already have been serving for all that time.”

There is also concern that the times of meetings could affect the people standing for election.

Our insider added: “We need to know what kind of council it will be - day meetings or night meetings, committee or other, because this will have a big effect on who is able to stand.

“If people are putting their names forward then they need to know what’s involved.”

A joint statement from councils in the north of the county said: “A review of ward boundaries has to be undertaken by the Boundary Commission.

“We have been advised that there is not time to do this prior to the elections in May 2020, so they have to be on the existing boundaries.

“The review can then take place and the following elections, in May 2026 (although this date has yet to be confirmed) will be on whatever new boundaries are decided.”

A six-stage Boundary Commission review includes a full public constultation on ward changes and, critically, parliamentary scrutiny at the end of the process.

Two unitary authorities are being set up in Northamptonshire to replace all the district and borough councils and Northamptonshire County Council after the county authority became effectively bankrupt.