Northants councils shake-up: Consultation ‘a farce’

County and borough councillor Mick Scrimshaw
County and borough councillor Mick Scrimshaw

A consultation exercise launched this week asking Northants residents to have their say on the future of local government in the county has been slammed by a prominent councillor.

Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw, who is leader of the opposition at Kettering Council and also a county councillor, has labelled the consultation as a ‘farce’ and says that residents are not being given enough information about the change that will have ‘a huge effect for decades to come’.

Central government has said the current two-tier system in Northamptonshire has to change to a single unitary system, following the finance and governance problems at the county council.

Leaders and chief officers from all of the eight councils in Northants are now holding talks to put together a joint bid for a two-unitary authority, with one unitary covering the north and one covering the west.

Residents are being asked six questions as part of the online questionnaire which is being hosted at www.futurenorthants.co.uk. They have until July 22 to voice their opinions.

Cllr Scrimshaw, who is also calling on the opposition leaders for each of the councils to be involved in the current high-level talks, said: “We don’t know any of the details. The public are being asked to support something they don’t understand, because nobody understands it.

“This consultation does not answer the questions that matter to people such as about council tax; the number of councillors they will be represented by and how services will be provided.”

The questions being asked by the council revolve around whether residents think changes need to be made and if they support the two unitary bid. People are also being asked whether they think there is an alternative option.

Currently the county council provides separate services to the boroughs and  is responsible for adult social care, children’s services and roads.

The borough councils look after services including waste collection, council tax collection, planning and leisure. All these services would come under one roof if a unitary was to be put in place.

The councils have until August 31 to submit their bid to the secretary of state for local government James Brokenshire.

If he approves the bid, a shadow council is expected to be set-up in spring 2019 ahead of elections for unitaries being held in May 2020.

Council elections which are due to be held next year are also expected to be suspended. The secretary of state would need approval from both Houses of Parliament to do this.

Extraordinary meetings across the eight different councils for members to debate the unitary proposal are being held in the last week of August.