Legislation which will kick start the transition to two new unitary councils in Northamptonshire will finally be laid before parliament in October.
Local leaders had been frustrated with the delays in signing off the ‘structural change order’ – a key document which effectively lays out the legislation of transitioning from the county/district/borough councils to the two new authorities.
County council leader Matt Golby, in his report to council yesterday [September 19], said: “The structural change order has been signed off the Secretary of State for local government [Robert Jenrick].
“I had previously lobbied some of our MPs highlighting the need to make progress with the laying of the order so this announcement is very much welcomed. We were also informed the order is due to be laid before parliament in late October.
“The process of what happens next was explained which should take six to eight weeks and involves debates by MPs and Lords committees before a final motion is put back to parliament. This is a significant development and begins to shift the focus from what may
happen to dealing with reality.”
A letter from government minister Luke Hall MP, to all the leaders of the Northamptonshire councils, also confirms that subject to parliamentary approval, the May 2020 elections in
Northamptonshire will be elections to the shadow unitary authorities. This effectively means that residents would be voting for candidates who would start representing them one year later when the unitary councils are officially launched on April 1, 2021. Before that, the councils will run in the background so as to ensure a smooth transition.
Elections to the existing district and borough councils have however been postponed for a second year running. It means that incumbent councillors will remain with the authorities until they are abolished. Some councillors elected as far back as 2015 will have served six year terms.
News of the matter finally going before parliament was welcomed by councillors, but a number still had reservations over the process.
Leader of the county Liberal Democrat party, Councillor Chris Stanbra, said: “I feel in the dark and excluded throughout this. I welcome that the current minister is getting his act together. I understand that a draft structural change order has been shared, but it would be good if all members could be sent that.”
Councillors also questioned what would happen if a snap general election was called by the government, meaning parliament would be dissolved.
County council chief executive Theresa Grant told members: “If an election is called it can go into the emergency item pool. But MCHLG are confident that it will get laid in the period of time we have after recess.”
The new North Northamptonshire Council – which will effectively merge Wellingborough, Kettering, East Northamptonshire and Corby – will have 78 elected councillors. Meanwhile, West Northamptonshire Council – which will merge Northampton Borough, South Northamptonshire and Daventry District – will have 93.