‘Zero chance’ of governing Northamptonshire under one big council before 2020, county chief reveals

Councillor Heather Smith has revealed plans to become a unitary authority will not go ahead before 2020.
Councillor Heather Smith has revealed plans to become a unitary authority will not go ahead before 2020.

Hopes of reducing Northamptonshire’s eight councils to just one will not happen before 2020 because of Brexit and squabbling between authority chiefs, the county council leader has claimed.

Yesterday, Cllr Heather Smith launched an extraordinary appeal for more Government funding after revealing the council was on the brink of drastically reducing its services.

The amount the council receives from Whitehall to fund things like adult social care, the fire brigade and pothole repairs is set to reduce to zero by 2021 - a drop of more than £80m over a five-year period.

Cllr Smith admitted the council will struggle to balance its books between now and 2021.

It had been hoped the council could save about £20m a year by scrapping the current eight councils in Northamptonshire and replacing them with one unitary authority.

But yesterday she revealed that too was not on the cards.

She said: “The chances of it happening are zero.

“It’s because the Government does not want to deal with anything contentious that will require a vote in Parliament.

“If we even have one of our MPs opposed to it, it just won’t go anywhere.

“I can’t tell you how frustrated I am at the whole situation.”

Cllr Smith said that, as Brexit legislation is set to take up such a large proportion of Parliamentary time between now and 2020, she has been told there will almost certainly not be enough time to hear Northamptonshire’s bid for unitary status in the Commons.

She added that council leaders across Northampotnshire are also yet to come to any agreement as to how a unitary authority system would look.

Northampton Borough Council, for example, believes the county should be split into two unitary authorities - one council governing Northampton and another overseeing the rest of the county.

Cllr Smith has long advocated turning the county into one large unitary, which would govern everything from street lighting to libraries and environmental services.

But she said talks with the district and borough leaders have hit an impasse.

She said: “The Government has made it clear they will not deal with local Government reform unless we are all saying we are all agreed.

“I have contacted all the leaders of the districts and boroughs to tell them we have a meeting with an independent chair to see whether we can find a way through this.

“I haven’t even received a reply from some of them.”