Separate body could oversee Northants debt

A new organisation to charge Northamptonshire residents for the county council's colossal debt could be created if the two new unitaries are set up.

Thursday, 23rd August 2018, 1:47 pm
Updated Monday, 3rd September 2018, 12:14 pm
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The idea is being suggested in the unitary proposal which has been put together by all eight Northamptonshire councils and will be voted on in a series of meetings next week.

Northamptonshire has a huge debt upwards of £600m made up of a number of historic loan agreements such as Public Works Board loans and PFI agreements which have paid for the likes of roads and schools.

It has a number of higher interest LOBO loans in its portfolio equalling more than £100m.

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The county’s financial collapse led to then Secretary of State Savid Javid suggesting the council  be abolished and a unitary system introduced which would replace all borough and district councils as well.

The debt of the county authority has been a key concern of councillors and residents but it is looking unlikely that it will be reduced or wiped out by central government and will be a liability for residents over the next decades.

The bid proposal makes the suggestion about a body to charge a precept.

It says: “The proposed new unitaries are keen to explore with Government, how to achieve the promised aim to leave the history behind while recognising that what was made in Northamptonshire, stays in Northamptonshire. For example setting up a residual body, with precepting powers, may be a route to ensuring that the new authorities are able to set budgets for their own activities and do not have to carry the historic legacy of both NCC and the districts and boroughs.”

However, the details of this precept suggestion are not fleshed out in the 90-page PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by all eight councils.

County councillor Mick Scrimshaw, who represents the Northall division in Kettering for Labour, said: “Why are we being asked to agree this unitary bid without having spent longer working it out? None of the detail has been discussed. This precept means that we will be paying more and more council tax for fewer services. In the bigger picture I think this is part of the Government’s austerity agenda to make people pay more at local level.”

All councils will consider the same proposal next week and councillors will exercise their right to have a say on the plans which could lead to the biggest shake-up in local governance in Northants in 40 years.

Even if only one of the councils has a majority vote in favour of the bid it can be submitted to the Secretary of State James Brokenshire.

He can then start the wheels in motion for bringing in the new unitaries, which will include the suspension of next year’s planned borough and parish elections and the creation of two new shadow unitaries.

Unitaries are timetabled to be in place for May 2020.

Sarah Ward, Local Democracy Reporter