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17.08.18

Northamptonshire report to propose splitting region into two unitaries

A report on the future of the debt-ridden Northamptonshire region due to be published this afternoon will likely recommend replacing all eight local authorities with two unitary councils.

Public consultation results and the report itself will both be made online at 3pm this afternoon across all eight council websites – but politicians are already predicting that proposals will recommend establishing a unitary to govern the north of the county and another to look over the west.

If approved by Whitehall, this would represent one of the biggest local government shake-ups in the past 40 years.

According to the Northamptonshire Telegraph, council leaders and chief executives from the eight district, borough and county councils have been meeting behind closed doors for weeks on end to put together the final details in the bid.

Meetings will take place across the region from 27 August, with members from Northamptonshire County Council – an authority now effectively insolvent and offering only a programme of bare-bones public services – specifically set to meet on the 28th.

All eight councils have been asked by the communities secretary to submit a proposal that meets a set of criteria. These plans were originally due on 27 July, but this was postponed by new boss James Brokenshire.

Any idea put forward must be based on existing council boundaries, and each new proposed authority must have a population substantially in excess of 300,000. A single, county-wide unitary has been explicitly ruled out as an option by central government.

The government has also confirmed that only one proposal will be accepted rather than a range of options. The winning bid must demonstrate clear potential for savings, must command “a good deal” of local support, must prioritise Whitehall’s housing and growth agenda, and must give due consideration to the results of the Best Value report published earlier this year – which recommended a two-unitary system.

If Brokenshire agrees with the bid put forward and survives both Houses of Parliament, it is expected that shadow unitary boards will be created in May 2019 ahead of elections taking place the year after.

Liberal Democrat county councillor Chris Stanbra told the Northamptonshire Telegraph that he expects a lack of support for a two unitary solution for the region, “as that is all the ‘mood music’ we have been hearing.” But he believes the government will plough ahead with that proposal regardless of what councils want.

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Image credit: Joe Giddens, PA Images

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