The leaders of boroughs and district councils have said responded cautiously to government inspector findings that the only solution to the county’s financial woes is to scrap Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough, East Northants, Northampton, South Northants and Daventry councils and form two unitary authorities in Northamptonshire.
A Best Value report into the under-fire financial dealings at county hall released today concluded that the county deserves a fresh start with two councils that would be responsible for all services in the county, bringing to an end the existing two tier local authorities.
Inspector Max Caller said: “The inspection team believe that a new start is required for the residents of Northamptonshire which can deliver confidence and quality in the full range of local government services.
“This can best be achieved by the creation of two new unitary councils, one covering the area of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire and the other encompassing Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough. These should be established following elections to be held in May 2020 and be in operation commencing at their first annual meeting.”
But leaders in the districts were understandably reticent on hearing the report’s findings as it would mean their authorities would cease to exist.
They held a summit at South Northamptonshire District Council yesterday to discuss their joint response to the report.
They said that they acknowledge the enormity of the situation and recognise the national challenges posed by the delivery of services such as Children’s and Adult Social Care. However, they stated that they do not believe that a unitary model suggested in the report is the only way forward.
They stressed residents need to be at the heart of any solutions to the challenges posed and that any proposals considered in response to the county council’s issues must be must be sustainable, long-term, and in the best interests of residents.
They say that based on their current understanding of the issues, they believe they have suggestions that can contribute towards a solution that works for residents.
They have also requested a meeting with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss the situation and explore whatever potential solutions may exist in the best interests of residents.
Leader of Corby Borough Council Cllr Tom Beattie said: “Corby Borough Council considers itself a well run and efficient council. As evidenced by our own LGA Peer Review in 2014 we are financially strong to the point that we have recently approved a budget for growth. It is extremely disappointing that because of the failure of others the future of our council is now threatened. The people of Corby deserve better than this.”
Cllr Russell Roberts, leader of Kettering Borough Council, said: “These are proposals which we need to take seriously, but which should not and will not detract from the ongoing job of this borough council in providing the best services it can. I say to residents that we will have your interests at heart as we go forward in our discussions with the government, not the interest of existing institutions.”
Cllr Jonathan Nunn, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said: “It will be no surprise to anyone that we have already given a potential switch to unitary very careful consideration.
“We need to know that any proposal will definitely solve the problems which exist, and big questions remain over how delivery of things like children’s services and adult social care can be achieved without impacting on the provision of the other services which residents tell us are of great importance to them.
“We fully acknowledge and understand the thrust of the report, and are committed to working with all concerned towards delivering a solution. Whatever happens, I have to put the residents of Northampton first.”
Cllr Ian McCord, leader of South Northamptonshire Council, said: “Whilst the report is damning on every page, unfortunately it does not come as a surprise to those serving the county’s borough and district councils.
“Unitary proposals are not the silver bullet for the county’s issues and the solution offered does not take into account whatsoever the successful relationship between South Northamptonshire Council and Cherwell District Council.”