South Northamptonshire will not join with Oxfordshire in unitary plan says leader

South Northants Council's offices
South Northants Council's offices

A proposal that would have seen a district of Northamptonshire leave the control of the county council and join with its neighbour in Oxfordshire has been scrapped.

The leader of South Northamptonshire Council has decided collectively with the leaders of the Oxfordshire and Cotswold district councils to rule out cross-county boundary options as part of their devolution plans.

South Northamptonshire had expressed an interest in forming a unitary authority with Cherwell district in Oxfordshire.

Their joint council would work alongside other unitary authorities created in Oxfordshire which would take on the powers of Oxfordshire County Council as well as those of district councils.

The decision by district council leaders is as a result of PwC’s early conversations with senior civil servants.

The district councils appointed independent advisers PwC last month to investigate the full range of unitary options available. Early findings are that cross-boundary unitary options are too complicated at this stage, and will result in lengthy delays to the Oxfordshire devolution process.

Councillor Ian McCord, leader of South Northamptonshire Council said: “This council’s consistent approach has been to seek to do what is best for our area, and the unitary proposal was a natural progression from our joint working initiatives and commitment to partnership working.

“However, although our proposals have been seen as innovative, we are some way from achieving the support we need.

“As a result, we have therefore reluctantly decided to withdraw the proposal, which will clear the way for an Oxfordshire-only solution to be submitted to government in the Autumn.

“We have decided to announce this decision now to avoid further speculation and protect further expenditure.”

“The Leader of the county council has confirmed that she will not consider options for public service reform for at least the next two years, so we will continue to work collaboratively with others, and to seek alternatives, with a focus on continuing to grow the local economy for the benefit of Northamptonshire residents and businesses.

“As part of this, we will also continue to seek the most effective governance and delivery arrangements to join up the public sector in Northamptonshire.”

In the meantime, South Northamptonshire Council and Cherwell District have confirmed that, regardless of any future changes to the structure of local government and public services within Oxfordshire, the existing joint working arrangements between the two councils will continue.