When will James Brokenshire start unitary consultation?

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Corby Council’s leader and senior officers have voiced their frustration at the failure of the secretary of state for Local Government to begin his consultation on local government reform in Northamptonshire.

Almost three months after a joint bid was submitted by seven of Northamptonshire’s eight councils to scrap the two-tier system and establish a unitary system there has been no public word from James Brokenshire.

His predecessor Sajid Javid had recommended a unitary system for the county earlier this year after the financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council.

There are now concerns that the already tight timetable to have two new councils in place for May 2020 is becoming increasingly difficult to stick to.

At the One Corby meeting last night head of democratic services Paul Goult said Northants councils were ‘in the dark’ about when Mr Brokenshire would begin his consultation.

He also voiced concerns that unless the secretary of state starts the process soon then it could cause problems for the suggested postponement of the 2019 council elections.

The secretary of state does not have the have the power to delay the elections – such a move can only be decided by Parliament.

But before then the consultation, which is scheduled for eight weeks, has to take place. The consultation will include councils and other organisations such as health bodies and the police. It is not known whether Northamptonshire residents can have a say.

Leader Cllr Tom Beattie said that he and his fellow leaders of the various Northants councils had made it clear to government civil servants that urgency was needed.

Corby Council is the only one which voted against the unitary proposals after consulting with residents who said they wanted the borough council to remain.

Despite not being in favour of reform the authority has joined its neighbours in putting up £500,000 for transition work.

Mr Goult said: “There is work being done behind the scenes and ducks are being put in a row. So that if the green light is given we are in position to move forward with the project.”

He added: “One of the key issues is continuity of services. That does not happen overnight. That will require planning.”

At the meeting councillors agreed to set up a sub-committee which will meet monthly and focus on the government reform.