What is happening in Northamptonshire?
Under government proposals laid before Parliament, two new unitary councils are due to be created in Northamptonshire to provide all local government services in the county.
Subject to this parliamentary legislation being approved, the new unitary authorities will come into being on 1 April 2021 and Northamptonshire’s current eight councils will cease to exist.
The North Northamptonshire unitary will cover Corby, East Northants, Kettering and Wellingborough and the West Northamptonshire unitary will cover Daventry District, Northampton and South Northamptonshire. The existing district and borough councils and Northamptonshire County Council will all be abolished.
Before the 2019 General Election, a Structural Changes Order 2019 (SCO) – which sets out how the two new unitary authorities will be formed to replace the existing eight councils on 1 April 2021 – was laid before Parliament.
The Order was considered by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and it has now been noted as an ‘instrument of interest.
Now Parliament has returned MHCLG has informed us of the next steps for the SCO. First, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments needs to be formed which will then start to consider statutory instruments – the expectation is that the Northants SCO would be one of the first that they would consider, given when it was laid before Parliament.
Once the Committee has met and considered the SCO, it will publish a report and then the debates can be scheduled in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The whole process usually takes 6-8 weeks and this webpage will be updated as the SCO continues its passage through Parliament – https://statutoryinstruments.parliament.uk/timeline/WjY9gKI6/SI-2019/
Meanwhile work on the Future Northants programme will continue at the same pace working to the go live date of 1 April 2021.
How did this originate?
Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) has had significant financial challenges.
In January 2018, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government at the time, Sajid Javid, appointed Max Caller to carry out a Best Value Inspection of NCC.
In his report, published in March 2018, Mr Caller concluded that NCC’s financial, cultural and governance problems could not be solved in isolation. He recommended plans be worked up for two unitary authorities to replace the current eight-authority, two-tier system consisting of NCC and the seven District and Borough councils.
The Secretary of State invited proposals from any council or group of councils in the county, setting criteria that excluded a single countywide unitary, and that proposals for new authorities must be based on existing council boundaries, with each new authority having a population substantially more than 300,000.
Government also stated that the proposal must demonstrate clear potential for savings, prioritise the Government’s wider housing and growth agenda and command a good deal of local support.
What proposals did the councils make to Government?
Following a joint public consultation, the Northamptonshire Local Government Reform Proposal was submitted to the Secretary of State on 31 August 2018 by seven of the county’s eight local authorities (Corby Borough Council decided not to sign up to the proposal).
The proposal was for two unitary councils: West Northamptonshire, comprising the current area of Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire; and North Northamptonshire, comprising the current areas of Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough.
The Government then carried out its own consultation into the proposal in December 2018 and January 2019.
Has a Government decision now been made?
In May 2019 a decision was made by the then Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, who reviewed all the evidence and representations received and decided that replacing the eight councils with two unitary authorities is in the best interests of the residents of Northamptonshire.
Initially it was anticipated that the two new authorities would have come into force on 1 April 2020 (Vesting Day), but given the tight turnaround, it was decided the sensible decision would be to set Vesting Day to 1 April 2021.
Draft legislation to create the two new unitaries was laid before Parliament in October 2019. It has not been approved and will lay dormant for consideration by the new Government following the December 2019 General Election.
How did the public have their say in the process?
During summer 2018, all eight councils held a joint public consultation into future local government reform in Northamptonshire, focusing on the two-unitary model – the only option which met all of the Government’s criteria.
The joint consultation received over 5,000 responses and was used to help inform and develop the Northamptonshire Local Government Reform Proposal for a two-unitary model, which was submitted to the Government on 31 August 2018.
After the proposal was submitted, people had another opportunity to give their views in autumn 2018, when the Government carried out its own consultation before making a decision.
Not all councils agreed to submit the proposal, so what happened?
The proposal was agreed and submitted in August 2018 by seven of the county’s eight local authorities, but Corby Borough Council decided not to.
The Secretary of State did not require every council to agree to the Proposal for it to be submitted, and he considered the level of agreement that has been achieved when making his decision.
Corby’s decision not to sign up was recognised and respected by the other councils. This had an impact earlier on in the process of preparing for the new unitary councils as they were not included in the initial meetings. However, in autumn 2018 they decided to approve the proposals regarding funding and governance and have since been fully involved in the process.
What will happen now a Government decision has been made?
The Secretary of State announced in May 2019 that the two new unitary councils will be established in Northamptonshire on 1 April 2021.
Legislation must now be made and passed in Parliament in order to create the two new unitaries and abolish the existing councils.
This legislation – known as a Structural Changes Order (SCO) – was laid before Parliament in October 2019.
It has been considered by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and it has now been noted as an ‘instrument of interest’. The draft SCO is currently laying dormant until after the General Election, when it will then be considered by the new Government.
The draft SCO requires approval by Parliament, then two new shadow authorities would be set up – one for the West and one for the North – with responsibility for delivering the new unitary councils in time for Vesting Day 2021.
How will the shadow authorities work?
The West Northamptonshire and North Northamptonshire shadow authorities will be solely responsible for delivering the new unitary councils in time for Vesting Day April 2021.
They will not be involved in the ongoing service delivery for Northamptonshire residents and this responsibility will remain with the county, district and borough councils until they are replaced by the new unitaries in April 2021.
Elections for councillors to the new authorities are expected to take place in May 2020.
Shadow Executives for the two authorities will be selected from those elected and will lead on the work to determine the structure, budget and service delivery models for the new councils.
What’s happening in the meantime?
Until the parliamentary legislation is approved and the shadow authorities are established, the councils have set up a West Joint Committee and North Joint Committee.
These committees are carrying out the preparatory work needed to set up the two new shadow authorities and will be replaced by them once legislation is approved.
What are the key dates to set up the new unitaries?
The below is an expected timeline only and may be subject to change once the Parliamentary agenda is set.
Government decision announced
Structural Change Order laid before Parliament. Noted as an ‘instrument of interest’ by the House of Lords Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
Parliament dissolved ahead of December General Election – draft SCO lies dormant for future consideration by new Government
May (subject to approval of the draft SCO by Parliament)
Parliament returns from recess to consider next steps for Structural Change Order
Elections to take place for the shadow unitary authorities (plus elections for towns/parishes and police and Crime Commissioner
2021 – subject to approval of the draft SCO by Parliament
Budgets and Council tax approved for new unitaries
Existing councils cease to exist after 31 March
New unitary councils operational on 1 April (Vesting Day)
How will you go about creating the new unitaries?
All eight councils have agreed a way forward to deliver a programme to create the two unitaries that will see better-quality service delivery across the county.
The Future Northants unitary programme has been agreed now that Vesting Day has been set for 2021, allowing time for creating much more than just two ‘safe and legal’ authorities. It focuses on more transformational work, that will ensure better integrated services from day one, rather than after the creation of the new unitaries.
The vision for the new unitaries is set out in the Prospectus for Change.
Sustainability is key to the success of the two new unitary authorities and the councils are working with health, the voluntary sector and other key stakeholders to make it easier for residents to access the services they need and make sure the right people are working together to deliver that service.
The Future Northants programme will be delivered by a team made up of staff from all eight authorities as well as some external programme management support. A Chief Executive from each current authority will lead each of the work portfolios that make up the programme, making it a plan that is owned and delivered by all Northamptonshire councils.
Will all services of the county council, boroughs and districts transfer to the two unitary councils?
Yes. All services will be provided by the new unitary councils.
What changes will residents see?
Residents shouldn’t see any immediate changes to services as a direct result of the reorganisation. However the creation of two new unitary councils provides opportunities to transform and improve public services in Northamptonshire to make it easier for residents to access the services they need and make sure the right people are working together to deliver that service.
The vision for the new unitaries is set out in the Prospectus for Change.
Will my bin be emptied on the same day?
It’s very unlikely that changes to services like bin collections will happen from April 2021 as a result of the introduction of unitary councils. However, councils may make improvements to any of the services they provide in order to provide residents with the best service. Any changes will be communicated to you well in advance of them happening.
Will I have to pay more Council Tax?
When the councils join together, their Council Tax levels will be harmonised, so that everyone in the whole area of each new council pays the same (subject to allowances that people may be entitled to). The level at which they will be harmonised and the period over which that will happen will be decided at a later date by the new shadow authorities.
How will business rates be affected?
Business rates are set nationally and the role of local authorities is just to collect them. However, there are various discretionary rate relief schemes and the new councils will need to decide how they will apply those in future.
Will I still be able to claim benefits when the changes are made?
Yes, the new authorities will take over responsibility for benefits from the existing councils.
Is it possible that two new unitary councils will be more remote and unable to keep in touch with local areas or support local parish and town councils?
It will be important for the new councils to put in place arrangements to ensure that the interests of local areas, as well as those of different groups within our communities, are recognised and addressed.
Does this mean the libraries will stay open?
The libraries will remain the responsibility of the county council until the new unitary arrangements are in place and so any further decisions on libraries will be made by them.
Will this affect which school my child attends?
Where will the two unitary councils be based?
This level of detail has not yet been discussed.
What will the creation of unitaries mean for staff of the current councils?
Councils will continue to operate as separate independent bodies until March 2021, at which point staff will be transferred over to the new unitary councils. Details of how the new councils could be structured will be discussed later in the process and staff will be involved in the consultation about that, as required by employment legislation.
Members of staff from across the eight councils are actively involved in the unitary preparations, with Trade Unions also engaging throughout the process.
Where will any proposed changes to the boundaries be?
The West Northamptonshire unitary boundaries will encompass the current area of Daventry District, Northampton Borough and South Northamptonshire; the North Northamptonshire unitary area comprises the current areas of Corby Borough, East Northamptonshire, Kettering Borough and Wellingborough Borough.
What local elections will be taking place in May 2020?
Elections for the new unitary authorities are due to take place in May 2020, along with the election for the Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and town and parish elections.
Existing councils will be responsible for any elections, referendums or by-elections that take place between now and April 2021.
How many councillors will there be on the new authorities?
The Draft Statutory Change Order laid before Parliament proposes that there will be 78 councillors elected for North Northamptonshire and 93 for the West Northamptonshire. Elections for the unitary councils are proposed to be held in May 2020 – councillors will serve a five-year term, with their first year on the shadow authorities.
How much will it cost to put these changes in place? And how much will it save?
The estimated costs are set out on page 24 of our Prospectus for Change.
NCC has had significant debts so will we end up with two new unitary authorities in the same situation?
Our aim is to ensure that any proposed new unitary councils are financially sustainable. With a later Vesting Day than originally considered, we have an opportunity to change how we deliver services so that they are easier to access for residents and deliver savings.
The District and Borough Councils, along with the new leadership at the County Council, have made it clear to the Government that they are very keen to leave the past behind, and are keen to work with the Government to resolve any financial challenges and deliver future success.
Meanwhile, the County Council continues to work alongside Commissioners and an Improvement Board to tackle the financial challenges it faces.
What will happen to the current money that district and borough councils hold as reserves when unitary councils are formed?
Any money that councils hold as reserves, that is equivalent to the savings they have in the bank, would be pooled. It will be for a new council to decide how they will then be used.
What allowances will the new councillors get paid?
That will be for the new councils to decide.
How much will the elections to the new unitaries cost?
The elections to the new unitaries are likely to cost about the same as the elections to the District and Borough Councils in 2019 would have done.