We will open debate on unitary authorities says Northants County Council chief Harker

Barely hours after seven Tory MPs called on Northamptonshire County Council to begin talking about setting up unitary authorities - its leader has agreed to open the debate.

Friday, 4th March 2016, 5:47 pm
Updated Friday, 4th March 2016, 5:49 pm
Councillor Jim Harker says he is willing to launch talks about splitting Northamptonshire's eight councils into a smaller number of unitary authorities.

Earlier today all of the county’s MPs signed a joint letter to the heads of the eight councils in Northamptonshire calling on them to look at disbanding the current two-tier system, which sees eight councils govern.

Councillor Jim Harker (Con, Ise) says a re-design of local government is needed as the county continues to face further population pressures with less money available.

Northamptonshire County Council has already announced plans for its Next Generation Model of providing its services through commissioned trusts, but the authority leader says this will not conflict with plans to set up unitary authorities , which some estimates say would save the county up to £80 million a year.

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He said: “I’m very pleased to have received a letter from all seven of the county’s MPs recognising that we need to start the process of considering unitary government in Northamptonshire.

“There are some obvious options for how this might work and these would need to be properly evaluated in terms of quality of services and value for money and, of course, we would need wider consultation with the people of the county.

“Obviously scale is an important consideration regarding local government and looking at unitary arrangements elsewhere in the country, places with populations between 700,000 and 1million tend to work better than smaller areas.

“We are committed to our next generation model of commissioning services from a new set of social enterprises in the county so we can deliver quality services and wide-scale collaboration with health while meeting our financial challenges, so it is essential that whichever model of government builds on this critical work.”

The concept of unitary governance will be discussed with all the political parties initially before firmer proposals are drawn up and considered, a council spokesman said.

The current structure - of one county council and seven districts and boroughs in Northamptonshire has been in place since 1974.

Up until December last year Councillor Harker said that forming a unitary authority was simply - “not on the government agenda.”

But Northampton South MP David Mackintosh’s action today suggests it very much is.

He said: “I have discussed this with government ministers and believe this reorganisation will happen, it is just a question of how.”