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Is bigger better? Or would unitary councils take the “local” out of local government in Northants?

June 25th, 2018

In the wake of Northamptonshire County Council’s well publicised financial woes, a proposal is on the table for the eight existing local authorities across the county to be replaced with just two unitary councils:

  1. West Northants Unitary Council – comprising the areas currently covered by Daventry District Council, Northampton Borough Council and South Northamptonshire Council.
  2. North Northants Unitary Council – comprising the the councils currently serving East Northamptonshire, Corby, Kettering and Wellingborough. 

Click here to view the government inspectors’ case for this proposal in their damning recent report on the county council’s performance. 

Supporters of the government inspectors’ unitary authorities proposal argue that a small number of larger councils (with fewer councillors, fewer employees and fewer offices to maintain) would save a lot of money and would lead to more efficient, more effective and cheaper local government in Northamptonshire. But is bigger better? Or would the proposed larger councils take the “local” out of local government? Some are suggesting that having larger councils and fewer councillors risks creating undemocratic, less accountable local authorities that are far removed from the communities they’re meant to serve. 

What do you think? Public consultation on the proposed unitary authorities has now begun and will end on Sunday, July 22, 2018. It’s vital that all of us KIng’s Sutton make our voices heard on this incredibly important issue. Otherwise, we may just find ourselves powerless to do anything about decisions made by people far away who couldn’t care less about our way of life in this village. 

The public consultation is being carried out using various methods that enable all of us to have our say:   

  • An online survey. Click here to complete and submit it. 
  • Paper copies of the questionnaire with a Freepost return address are available from today (Monday, June 25). Please help those of your friends, family and neighbours who aren’t online by letting them know that these paper copies can be picked up from council offices, libraries, leisure centres, etc.)
  • A representative telephone survey will be carried out across the county by ORS, the independent company running this survey. 
  • ORS will also be running focus groups with invited residents and there will be additional events at a local level. (Details soon.) 

Here’s what King’s Sutton’s district councillor Gregor Hopkins says: 

“Local government reform of Northamptonshire is 99% likely to happen, and it will happen soon. The abject failure of governance at the county level makes it pretty much a given. It also makes fixing the financial situation, and making it sustainable, an urgent priority. 

“I think we should use this consultation to make it clear what we in South Northamptonshire want and need. In my opinion, we need to preserve the local and accountable democratic link that SNC, as a district council, currently provides. That means local voices will still be heard – especially with regard to planning and what we in the district want in terms of development. 

“We also need to consider and mitigate the disadvantages to us in King’s Sutton of splicing together a densely populated urban centre like Northampton with a very different rural hinterland. That would very likely bring a conflict in political priorities. Last but not least, we should be looking for assurances that future financial allocation would be fair, in terms both of taxation and of spending, so that South Northants doesn’t end up being used as a pot to fund services in Northampton that might otherwise be unaffordable. 

“As a resident of King’s Sutton, I worry that we will find that our ability to control the village is diminished, particularly with regard to planning. In an ideal world, I would like to see three local authorities rather than the two proposed. These could combine rural districts within Northamptonshire, but enable the continuation of arrangements to share services with neighbouring suthorities such as the highly successful partnership SNC had with Cherwell District Council. Most importantly, the town of Northampton should stand by itself. We would still gain economies of scale, but avoid the odd splicing of Northampton with Daventry and South Northants that the government’s inspectors have proposed. I understand Northampton’s council would greatly prefer that outcome as well.” 

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