Northamptonshire’s government-appointed commissioners want to ‘minimise the risk’ of joint committees making decisions they don’t agree are ‘in the best interests of the county council’ when setting up two new unitary authorities.
The joint committees are being set up to help establish the unitaries that will likely come into existence next year, replacing the current county and district/borough councils. A government decision on the reorganisation is due by the end of the month.
So far, the preparatory work has gone on behind closed doors at steering groups made up of select councillors, leaders and senior officers from the respective councils.
The next step will see two joint committees set up for both the North and West unitaries, and these are committees that will meet in public and have decision making powers.
After a public row on membership, the councils have finally agreed on equal representations from all the councils involved.
But the county council commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts have said in a letter to council leaders - seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service - that they want to attend the meetings and keep a close eye on the decisions being taken.
The letter, dated February 27 and signed by both commissioners, states: “We wish to help facilitate the preparatory arrangements for unitary local government, and to that end will most particularly want to ensure that inputs we make to county council decision making are made in full awareness of the intent of the joint committees.
“Similarly, we will want to minimise the risk of situations occurring where decisions taken by the joint committees may be contradictory to our view as to what is in the county council's and its services present best interests.
“It is, therefore, our intention to attend meetings of the joint committees on occasions where the matters under consideration may, in our opinion, affect those of the county council's functions which we are required to discharge, and to participate in the discussions that take place on such matters.”
The commissioners were appointed by Secretary of State for local government James Brokenshire following the publication of the Max Caller report, which recommended that the county and district councils be abolished to make way for the unitary authorities.
Mr McArdle acts as the lead commissioner, and has scope to direct ‘all functions associated with the governance and scrutiny of strategic decision making by the authority’. Mr Roberts meanwhile oversees the ‘strategic financial management’ of the council.