Unitary Authority update from South Northants Council

Local Government Reorganisation – Update from Peter Holt: Interim Assistant Director, Communications and Local Government Reorganisation

We are now within shouting distance of the post-Easter anticipated announcement from the Government giving the thumbs up to the two proposed new unitaries for Northamptonshire, to be followed by the Statutory Change Orders being laid before and considered by Parliament.

Our behind the scenes preparation has continued apace, and we in the West have now had the first meeting of the Joint Committee, pooling a tightly-limited amount of powers amongst SNC, Daventry, Northampton Borough and Northamptonshire County Councils, sufficient to prepare for the establishment of the West Northants Shadow Authority, the first meeting of which would be required within a couple of weeks of the completion of the Parliamentary approval process.

All this work notwithstanding, our long-held assumptions about the timing for the proposed new West Northants Council to go live – April 2020 – is now subject to rumour and speculation as to whether the Government when they make their announcement (still hoped for soon after Easter) will instead announce a longer preparation period, and a new go-live date of April 2021 – but with elections to the Shadow Authority in May 2020 (which would then automatically carry over into membership of the new council itself a year later).

Should this rumour turn into reality when we hear the announcement from the Secretary of State, then I am pleased that our existing contingency planning is already largely on top of the implications for us. This eventuality would presumably include an announcement from the Government that currently elected SNC members would see their four-year term of office extended not just to a fifth year, but actually to a sixth-year.

If this delay were realised, and these Shadow Authority elections held, we anticipate that the Parish elections could be held alongside them. If the term of office for those elected in May 2020 to the shadow authority were to run for 5 years (one year in shadow, 4 years in the authority proper) then it would perhaps mean that to remain aligned, and continue to keep down the costs of holding Parish elections, that those Parish elections would also in the first instance need to be for 5 year terms too.

We would then see the current sovereign councils continue through until 2021, with the Shadow Authority running alongside it for rather longer than the previously anticipated 6-9 months. With an extra year until abolition, SNC would therefore have to revert to preparing another year's budget, for 2020/21 – but this would be relatively straightforward (albeit no smaller a task than any other year) because for us it is 'business as usual'. We would though have to cope with various other implications associated with an extra year – such as managing down any growth in costs having separated from Cherwell and for running a cross-council LGR team alongside existing councils' management teams for an extra 12 months.

To summarise therefore, this possible year's additional delay would be complicated, and not without costs and challenges, but would overall represent a valuable opportunity to do a lot more in-depth transformation (and even wider public sector reform, working with colleagues across health, criminal justice and educational sectors) before West Northants went live in 2021, than the more limited transition work we were in most cases likely to be limited to in the time running up to the original assumed go-live date in 2020. The extra year would also give us the chance to begin to implement joint working arrangements with one or more of our neighbouring Northants councils even sooner.

Posted: Thu, 02 May 2019 14:04 by Helen du Bois

Tags: Council