In an oral Statement on 27 March 2018 (Col 661), my Rt Hon. Friend, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government (Sajid Javid), told the House that he had received an independent inspection report on Northamptonshire County Council that found significant failures that could not be satisfactorily addressed within a reasonable timetable. I appointed Commissioners on the 10th May to bring stability to Northamptonshire County Council, and I am today publishing the first report from the Commissioners and my response. My Rt Hon. Friend also informed the House that he would be inviting the eight principal councils in Northamptonshire to submit proposals to restructure local government in the county.
On 31 August 2018, I received such a proposal from seven of the eight councils to establish two new unitary councils. The legislation requires that before a proposal for local government reorganisation can be implemented, I must first consult every principal local authority affected by the proposal (except the authority or authorities which made it); and any such other persons as I consider appropriate.
Accordingly, I am today launching a consultation on that proposal. I am consulting all principal councils in Northamptonshire, principal councils neighbouring Northamptonshire, Northamptonshire Chamber of Commerce, South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership, the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner, local health bodies, the University of Northampton, and representatives of the voluntary sector. We also welcome views from any interested persons, including local residents and organisations.
The consultation period will run for eight weeks until 25 January 2019. The consultation document is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/the-proposed-reorganisation-of-local-government-in-northamptonshire, and paper copies will also be available in public offices and buildings of the all the Northamptonshire councils.
Once the consultation is concluded, I will then as statute provides decide whether or not to implement, with or without modification, the proposal that the councils have submitted to me. In taking that decision I will have regard to all the representations received from the consultation exercise along with all other relevant information and material available to me.
I am also announcing today that following a request from the eight Northamptonshire councils, I intend as soon as practicable to make and lay before Parliament an Order under the Local Government Act 2000 to postpone district and parish council elections in Northamptonshire due to be held in May 2019 until May 2020. In deciding to make such a postponement I have had regard both to the importance of local elections as the foundation of our local democracy and ensuring the accountability of councils and to the risks of continuing with the May 2019 elections in Northamptonshire given the local circumstances.
These risks are, as the councils have highlighted to me, that if following the consultation I were to decide to implement the councils’ proposal and Parliament approves legislation establishing the two new unitary councils from April 2020 with elections in May 2020, district councillors elected in May 2019 would serve for only one year with their council then being abolished. Elections in such circumstances risk confusing voters and would involve significant costs that would be hard to justify. The councils have also stressed the importance of there being certainty by early December 2018 about the May 2019 elections.
Accordingly, I have concluded that irrespective of whatever my future decision might be on the restructuring proposal, the right course is to postpone these elections and make the necessary secondary legislation as soon as practicable. The councils have also requested on the grounds of practicalities that parish council and district council elections continue to be held concurrently and I intend to legislate for this, postponing any May 2019 parish council elections in Northamptonshire to May 2020.