Northants unitary move ‘could hit services’

Cllr Mick Scrimshaw
Cllr Mick Scrimshaw

A long-serving borough and county councillor is warning that moving to a unitary system will mean services currently provided and protected by the boroughs and districts could come under threat.

Kettering councillor Mick Scrimshaw has issued a warning to residents that services like bin collections, grass collections, parks and community grants could suffer cuts under a unitary system as the massive debt built up by Northamptonshire County Council will still remain and the gap in social care funding will still need to be plugged.

Central government has ordered all of the eight councils in the county to put together a joint bid by the end of August for two unitary councils to replace the current two tier system. The proposal is that the long-standing boroughs and districts will be scrapped in May 2020 and replaced by a unitary authority in the west and one in the north.

A public consultation called Future Northants is currently taking place asking county residents for their opinions. It claims that £12m each year will be saved by converting to a unitary system. Corby Council, which is against the unitary system, is carrying out its own consultation.

Cllr Scrimshaw who represents the William Knibb ward on Kettering Council and the Northall ward on the county council, said: “The public are being lied to about the unitaries being more cost efficient. When the services provided by the boroughs are brought under the unitary system they could be under threat as savings will still need to be made. There will still be a massive underfunding of adult social care and this means that services such as bin collections and grass cutting could be affected.

“For example, the unitary could decide to have  bin collections every three weeks or to reduce the grass cutting service.”

Last year NCC spent £165m on adult social care and overspent by £16.1m of its budget. The department says that pressure from hospital discharges, the rising complexity of clients and pressures in the care market led to the overspend.

Over the past few years NCC has issued a raft of cuts to services that have affected children’s centres and trading standards. The county’s comprehensive library service is now under threat with 21 due to close their doors on September 30. This winter almost 400km of the county’s roads will be gritted less routinely and six gritting lorries from the 26 strong fleet could be retired.

All of the boroughs and districts are in relatively healthy financial situations and have not been making cuts to the services they provide. They have however  been affected by new homeless legislation which led to Wellingborough Council spending £1m on temporary accommodation for families last year. Some boroughs also have debts built up by buying their housing stock and also investing in property to make extra revenue.

Residents have until July 25 to have their say at www.futurenorthants.co.uk. Forms are also available at council offices and libraries.

Sarah Ward

Local Democracy Reporter