New panels agreed to help kickstart transition to West Northants unitary – but opposition councillors feel ‘left out’

A host of new councillor-led groups have been established to help create the new West Northamptonshire unitary council – but opposition councillors say they are being ‘left out’ of the process.
A new unitary council is being set up for West Northamptonshire.A new unitary council is being set up for West Northamptonshire.
A new unitary council is being set up for West Northamptonshire.

Until the new unitary officially launches next April, a ‘shadow’ council will effectively oversee the setting up of the authority and the transition towards it from the existing country, district and boroughs.

As part of this, a number of ‘task and finish panels’ will each be responsible for an area of work – such as governance, council tax, budgets, senior appointments and culture.

But Liberal Democrat councillors say the political makeup of the panels is excluding their councillors from getting involved. Each panel is made up of five councillors, with just one space for opposition councillors not in the ruling Conservative party.

Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Harris tweeted: “Our unelected shadow council cabinet has chosen to limit opposition involvement in task and finish groups to one opposition member each. You will hear it’s a ‘fresh start’ and ‘a bright future’. It’s not. It’s more of the same.”

And at a virtual shadow executive meeting on Tuesday evening (June 9), fellow Lib Dem councillor Dennis Meredith said: “We’re not really 100 per cent happy with the way the task and finish groups have been set up. We have councillors with lots of experience and who have served for more than 20 years, and they have been left out of these task and finish groups. We think the expertise of these people will be lost. We feel quite annoyed that some of us have been left out and I hope that this will be taken on board and the mistake that has been made is rectified.”

But the leader of the shadow council, Councillor Ian McCord, responded: “If people believe they have a deep expertise or knowledge they can bring, they need to make that argument with their group leaders and between the opposition parties work out who is the best person to put in. I haven’t ruled anyone in or out.

“I have appointed my side and these groups are politically balanced over and above what the statute requires us to do. So I think we’re doing everything we possibly can to ensure that there is a good balance. If somebody has a burning desire to be involved, they have to convince their leader. And if they can’t do that then maybe their depth or expertise is not as valued by their own side as they would wish to think.”

This was the first time the ‘executive committee’ – which will effectively act as a decision-making cabinet – had met. It also included an update on progress being made to recruit senior officers to new positions.

Following the meeting, Councillor McCord added: “There was a healthy debate around these member task groups and the key activities that they will deliver in the creation of West Northamptonshire Council.

“We agreed that the achievements of each group will be shared at future executive meetings where members of the public can hear the progress to date including on how we are setting budgets and appointments to key statutory roles including the new chief executive.”