Northampton

Northamptonshire: Unitary authorities plan approved

One Angel Square, Northamptonshire County Council HQ
Image caption Northamptonshire's two new unitary authorities will open for business on 1 April 2021, the government said

A plan for two unitary authorities to replace a cash-crisis council has been approved by government.

Northamptonshire County Council's money problems in 2018 led to a scheme to scrap it and seven other district and borough councils next year.

But the new authorities will not be in operation until 1 April 2021, a year later than originally planned.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said "shadow authorities" would be set up in 2020 during a transition period.

These will be established following local elections in May 2020 - this month's local elections in Northamptonshire were cancelled.

As well as two new unitary councils, a children's trust will also be established to deliver services on behalf of the new authorities.

'Time to plan'

Mr Brokenshire's announcement brings to an end a long period of uncertainty over the future of local government in Northamptonshire.

The proposals were originally submitted to Westminster in August but local leaders had become worried Brexit was delaying the process.

Work will begin to see whether the unitary authorities can be formed in time for the intended deadline of April 2021.

Mr Brokenshire has also extended the initial deadline recommended by government inspector Max Caller last year in his report into the failing county council.

In a joint statement, the leaders of eight councils said the announcement "gives us more time to plan carefully and confidently for the future to ensure that we create two sustainable unitary councils".

Image copyright PwC
Image caption Eight councils in Northamptonshire will be scrapped and replaced by two unitary bodies in 2021

Why unitary?

The unitary authority model means all council services will be under one roof, whereas the county council was in charge of services such as education, health and social care, while the borough and district councils looked after waste, recycling and planning applications.

Under the newly backed plans, South Northamptonshire, Northampton Borough and Daventry will effectively merge to create the new West Northamptonshire unitary authority.

A second unitary authority - North Northamptonshire - will oversee Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough.

Analysis: BBC Look East political reporter Ben Schofield

According to one council leader in Northamptonshire, today's announcement means the county can put a "bad period of local government history behind us".

South Northamptonshire's Ian McCord told me that the county council's financial collapse had caused a "lot of damage" to Northamptonshire's reputation - but he was looking forward to a "new start and new geography and no baggage".

But ask the same questions in Corby and very different answers come back.

Corby Borough Council is the only Labour-run authority in Northamptonshire. Its leader, Tom Beattie, said they're effectively being "penalised" for the "very bad running" of the Conservative-run county council.

"We didn't commit the crime but have ended up doing the time," he said.

Mr Beattie added he felt both "sadness" that his council was closing, as well as "relief" the phoney war is now over.

Image caption Northamptonshire County Council twice banned spending in 2018

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