2021 Annual Conference & AGM

The Northants CALC Annual Conference & AGM - "Unitary Northamptonshire - The First Six Months" - took place on 2 October 2021 at One Angel Square in Northampton by kind invitation of West Northamptonshire Council.

Over one hundred delegates from more than fifty member councils attended, as well as guests, exhibitors, and officers.

Delegates were treated to bacon or sausage baps on arrival and had an opportunity to network and meet the exhibitors before the formal business got underway.

Lesley Sambrook Smith, Deputy CEO of Northants CALC called the meeting to order at precisely 10:00 a.m. and handed over to Mike Scott, Chairman of Northants CALC who presided over the formal AGM business. The meeting elected Mr Jeffrey Greenwell as President, and agreed an increase in 2022/23 membership fees of 2.1% in line with inflation. The minutes of the 73rd AGM were approved for signature and the Annual report & Accounts for the year ending 31 March 2021 were received and noted.

The guest speakers were Cllr Jonathan Nunn, Leader of West Northamptonshire Council (Jonathan.Nunn@westnorthants.gov.uk), and Cllr David Howes, Portfolio Holder for Rural Communities and Localism at North Northamptonshire Council (David.Howes@northnorthants.gov.uk).

Cllr Jonathan Nunn, Leader of West Northamptonshire Council (WNC) addressed the conference. He said that parish and town councils were a big part of WNC's plans and that the WNC logo, which had been designed to represent the former principal councils, was now thought to represent the public, private, and voluntary sectors working together. As part of the public sector, it is vital that principal councils and parish and town councils have a culture of collaboration. Cllr Nunn said that culture was extremely important, and that it "needed to be in peoples' hearts, not just in their email footers". He said, "We are on a journey together, we are not there yet". He said that WNC's finances are in good shape and that a strategy has been published. A new Councillor Empowerment Fund is being launched and Cllr Nunn urged all parish and town councils to talk to their WNC ward members. He said he was aware of different levels of engagement between parishes and ward members and that a standard service level could be designed to set out the expectations. Cllr Nunn said that "Working together, we can create something very exciting".

Cllr David Howes, Portfolio Holder for Rural Communities and Localism at North Northamptonshire Council (NNC) addressed the conference. He noted the challenges that setting up the unitary council had thrown up but said that "business as usual" and "safe and legal" had been achieved, as well as doing some new things. Strategies are being set out and a new Corporate Plan is currently out for consultation. The boundaries of the four former local government districts are retained for the purposes of planning and development control, with a Local Area Planning Committee for each one, and planning is seen as a very important interface between the unitary council and residents. Cllr Howes said that parish and town councils are very important and that a list of contact details for senior officers had been circulated to them to ensure they knew who to speak to. He wanted to see parish and town councils treated as partners and noted that NNC's Chief Executive had reinforced that ethos at staff meetings. Cllr Howes referenced devolution and committed that nothing will be "done to" parish and town councils. He said, "You must feel part of the process – we want to be working with you and listening". Cllr Howes said, "We need to communicate better; we're not there yet" and he urged parish and town councils to help by sharing community intelligence via a new single point of contact for parish and town councils and asked for mutual understanding that there will be challenges ahead.

Mike Scott thanked the guest speakers for the presentations and invited questions from the audience, which ranged from how to set the right culture of the unitary councils, to the financial savings that they will achieve, and how it was important to bring all services up to the highest standard achieved by the former principal councils, not reduce levels to the lowest common denominator. Mike Scott thanked the audience for their questions and comments and the speakers again for their responses.

The conference then went to break for delicious cakes and cookies and hot drinks, and another chance to chat to fellow delegates and speak to exhibitors. At the end of the break a presentation of flowers and a gift was made to Catherine Lomax, one of the retiring vice presidents. Unfortunately, the other retirees, Gwen Radcliffe and Gordon Shorley, were unable to be at the conference, but will receive their presentations at home.

After the break conference heard from five member councils on their perspective of unitary Northamptonshire.

Deborah Rush , Clerk to Cogenhoe & Whiston Parish Council (in West Northamptonshire) and Grendon Parish Council (in North Northamptonshire), said that the ward councillors were trying to engage. Operationally there are frustrations and highways are taking longer to respond. The ERP Gold accounting system that WNC uses is frustrating, and it is more complex to invoice the unitary councils for the Village Hopper service than previously as the invoices now have to be broken down per journey and per stop. Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) has generated a lot of extra work for clerks. Neither council yet identifies as "west" or "north". Residents don't really understand LGR, or where they should now go to for help, so a residents' help desk is being set up during coffee mornings to provide a local signposting service. Deborah Rush said " We know our residents best. If you work with us, we can help ".

Mark Hunter, Clerk to Chelveston-cum-Caldecott Parish Council (in North Northamptonshire), praised the engagement from NNC ward councillors. Operationally it was not going so well, as the NNC telephone system is tortuous, the SPOC details haven't yet been published, and the Registers of Members Interests forms had taken a long time to appear on the NNC web site. He asked for better comms and that the NNC Councillors' Briefing being circulated to parish and town councils. He noted that NNC wants to work with parish and town councils but cited the litter bins and fly tipping strategy document, which didn't mention parish and town councils at all. Cllr Graham Lawman has agreed to change that. Mark Hunter described the Lengthsman that had been employed in the parish and called upon NNC to be less risk-averse regarding such initiatives than Northamptonshire County Council had been. He said, "Please treat parish and town councils as serious partners".

Cllr Sam Kilby-Shaw, Chairman of Kingsthorpe Parish Council (in West Northamptonshire), said that being so new the council did not yet have a true sense of identity and that it was a large parish with a diverse demographic. He said that the KPC councillors were gaining experience, skills, and knowledge and have been working hard on initiatives, such as reopening Kingsthorpe library. He said there had been limited contact with the WNC ward members so far, but what contact there had been was good. There was also good contact with Jonathan Nunn and the local MP, Michael Ellis. Sam Kilby-Shaw said, "We can't judge collaboration yet, but if we work together, we can work through any problems".

Cllr Pat Scouse, Chairman of Broughton Parish Council (in North Northamptonshire), reported that engagement with the NNC ward councillors had been mixed. She said that Local Government Reorganisation (LGR) had been a big task but that we should not lose sight of the grass roots and that parish and town councils can play a vital role in providing local services. The network of parish and town councillors in the county is an underused resource that could be used to convey the unitary councils' messages to individual communities. Pat Scouse said that parish and town councils operate under the radar of the unitary councils and that a little thought would go a long way and that working collaboratively the tiers of local government could achieve a great deal. She cited climate change as an issue that parish and town councils could help embed in local action. She said, "We need to move beyond "them and us". Reach out to the knowledge represented here today. We can make Northamptonshire a clean, green, shining example".

Gary Youens, Clerk to Duston Parish Council (in West Northamptonshire), said that it was early days, but there was a determination all round to make unitary local government work and that unitary was a good model overall being more joined up and with less relational distraction than had existed previously. He said that the unitary councils must now concentrate on statutory strategic services, but that creates a large distance between the unitary councils and individual communities. Duston Parish Council has gone from being 1 of 10 councils in the borough of Northampton, to being 1 of 165 in West Northamptonshire. If they wish, parish and town councils can fill the void at community level. Gary Youens said that WNC ward councillors and parish and town councils need each other. He said that it was going to be hard for WNC to have an individual relationship with each parish and town council and called for some sort of Memorandum or Charter to be developed. He called for harmonisation of services across West Northamptonshire, citing the fact that WNC operates allotments in Duston, whereas in other areas that function is typically discharged by parish and town councils. Gary Youens said, "With the Borough Council now gone we are working with our neighbours more and meeting with them more regularly to discuss common issues. In due course we look forward to extending and building that relationship with other councils in West Northamptonshire."

Mike Scott thanked all the parish speakers and invited Cllrs Nunn and Howes to reply if they wished.

Cllr Nunn said that he had listened to what had been said and that he needed to reiterate to senior officers at WNC that parish and town councils are important. He took on board the ERP Gold issue. He said that it will take time to build the identity of "West Northamptonshire" because it is not a physical place on a map, but that in some respects in residents had not noticed any change then that was a measure of success because services had continued uninterrupted. He said that WNC's leadership was working incredibly hard and that sometimes response times were longer than desirable. Cllr Nunn said that a new standard for how ward councillors work with parish and town councils would be developed and that harmonisation and devolution of services would be a key piece of work over the next few years.

Cllr Howes said that he attends all meetings of Desborough Town Council in his ward and that principal councillor attendance at parish and town council meetings should be encouraged. He asked parish and town councils to let him know if there were difficulties. He said that NNC had to get rural public transport right for the whole area. He said that hearing from the parish and town councils at the conference had been the best part and that he saw it as a potential model for the new Kettering & Corby, and Wellingborough & East Northants Parish Forums.

Mike Scott thanked the guests and all delegates for engaging in a very useful session.

Northants CALC Chief Executive, Danny Moody, then presented the Council of the Year Award. He said "This year, and for one year only, and in this the most difficult year, the award for Council of the Year goes to each and every one of you that is still standing. If you are still standing after the biggest reorganisation of local government in this county for over 50 years. If you are still standing after the local elections in May, and the six-year term of office that they brought to an end. If you are still standing after all that a global pandemic can throw at you. If you are still standing, despite everything, then you deserve this award. Northants CALC is very proud to award the 2021 Council of the Year to all councils in Northamptonshire that are still standing."

He then called on all those present to give each other a big round of applause, before calling on Mike Scott as Chairman of Northants CALC to accept the award on behalf of all parish and town councils in Northamptonshire.

Mike Scott then congratulated all the clerks that had completed their Certificate in Local Council Administration (CiLCA) since the last conference, and the councillors that had achieved certification under the Councillor Development Framework.

Roade Parish Council won the prize draw for £300 in vouchers and a bottle of prosecco, generously donated by Wicksteed Playgrounds.

Mike Scott thanked the sponsors for their generous support, Cllrs Howes and Nunn for their presentations and positive engagement, and all the delegates for their attendance and participation. He concluded by saying that the 2022 Conference & AGM will take place on Saturday 1 October 2022 and asked people to put the date in their diaries.

The meeting closed promptly at 12:56 p.m., enabling a quick exit for all the Northampton Saints fans who needed to be in place for a 2pm kick off!

A copy of the speakers' slides and the draft minutes are available below.

Papers & Presentations

74th Annual Conference - Presentations - Cllr Jonathan Nunn

74th Annual Conference - Presentations - Cllr David Howes

74th Annual Conference - Minutes

74th Annual Conference - Delegate Information 

74th Annual Conference - All Papers