Corby was the only old council to oppose Northamptonshire’s move to replace the old council set-up with two unitary authorities. With the first ever North Northamptonshire Council elections taking place on 6 May, the BBC asked candidates if they feel the town will have a voice that is heard in the new authority.
How eight councils became two
image captionNorthamptonshire County Council was subject to two spending bans during 2018
In 2018, after effectively going bankrupt twice and being condemned in a government-ordered inspection, Conservative-run Northamptonshire County Council was told it would be scrapped.
That decision also spelt the end for the county’s seven borough and district authorities.
The plan was to replace them with two new unitary authorities, one in the north and one in the west of the county.
image captionResidents protested against proposed county council cuts in 2018
In August 2018, the eight doomed authorities voted on whether to adopt this system.
Seven said yes. Only one – Corby Borough Council – said no.
Labour-controlled since 1979, Corby was an anomaly in Northamptonshire, with all the other councils being Conservative-run.
Despite Corby’s opposition, the government approved the unitary plans and on 1 April 2021 the two new councils were born.
Residents will vote for the authorities’ first-ever councillors on Thursday, 6 May.
Corby has five wards with each returning three councillors to North Northamptonshire, which will have 78 councillors in total.
‘Read the Domesday Book’
image captionJean Addison says she fears facilities like Corby’s international swimming pool would be outsourced by a Conservative-controlled North Northamptonshire Council
As Corby Borough Council’s Labour deputy leader, Jean Addison had been at the heart of things, rebuilding – she says – the town after the closure of its steel works between 1979 and 1981.
Pointing to projects such as the Corby Cube, international swimming pool and cinema as signs of her party’s success, she worries being part of North Northamptonshire Council will see Corby’s residents lose their voice.
image captionThe steelworks dominated Corby in the 1970s and closure led to more than 10,000 jobs going over three years and unemployment at 30%
Although Corby has consistently voted Labour, the rest of North Northamptonshire has been firmly blue.
Mrs Addison fears a Conservative win will mean “facilities we have built will be outsourced”.
“I can see them looking at the pool,” she says.
“It isn’t a money-maker, but it is providing swimming lessons for thousands of children, and for people with disabilities and Alzheimer’s.”
image captionCorby International Swimming Pool includes 50- and 20-metre pools, diving boards and a gym
Mrs Addison says some politicians from outside Corby who could end up in prominent positions on the new council “think this is a run-down place, but they probably haven’t even visited”.
“I recently spoke to one person who said ‘Corby has no history’. I had to remind him to read the [11th Century] Domesday Book.
“We are the fastest-growing borough outside London; we have more council houses than Manchester. That will be lost.”
‘Corby will be integral’
image captionCorby Cube was home to Corby Borough Council, but it has not been decided where the new headquarters for North Northamptonshire Council will be
The BBC approached Conservative councillors in North Northamptonshire and Corby, but were told to speak directly to the party’s local association and send questions by email.
In a statement, the party says the town is “an integral part of the new authority”.
“For many years under both parties, Corby residents have felt the county council had steered decision-making on significant strategic issues, such as social care, education and transport, by representatives from distant parts of the county,” the statement reads.
“That will no longer be the case in Corby and elsewhere – decisions about North Northamptonshire services will be made directly by North Northamptonshire councillors, directly-elected by North Northamptonshire people.”
‘A united Corby front’
image captionChris Stanbra has previously served on Northamptonshire County Council and Corby Borough Council
Liberal Democrat Chris Stanbra says he is not prepared to stop fighting for either North Northamptonshire or Corby.
That’s despite his conviction Conservative central government’s decision to go with two unitary councils in Northamptonshire, coupled with the electoral boundaries it drew up, is an attempt to ensure local counterparts would control the new authorities.
“Undoubtedly the structure of local government we have now was rigged,” he says.
image captionCorby has strong Scottish and Trade Unionist traditions due to the influence of its steel works
“But if opposition parties campaign hard and have a good message – and we will never have a better one – then now could see a different result.
“If you get a decent number of non-Conservatives on the council from Corby, and they have any influence, the council will be more considerate of the political traditions of the town.
“It will be important councillors who represent Corby work together as a united Corby front.”
Mr Stanbra fears Corby could be controlled by councillors from East Northamptonshire, Kettering or Wellingborough.
He suggests whoever wins should choose Cabinet members “from a wide geographical area,” making sure those with power have experiences of all areas in North Northamptonshire.
‘Forty years of Labour’
image captionThen Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visited Corby during the 2019 General Election campaign
- Corby Borough Council was only anything other than Labour-controlled for three of the more than 47 years it existed between June 1973 and April 2021
- It was Conservative-run between 1976 and 1979
- In the first borough council election, Labour won 29 out of 32 seats
- The authority was run by Labour for almost 42 consecutive years (May 1979 to March 2021)
- In the last election in 2015, Labour won 24 of 29 available seats, garnering more than 50% of the vote
‘It’s not Corby against the rest’
image captionLee Forster is a long-standing environmental campaigner in Corby
The Green Party’s Lee Forster does not see himself as political.
“I’m an environmental campaigner,” he says. “We have got issues in Corby with incinerators.
“I have been campaigning for cleaner air for about 10 years.”
Mr Forster says his efforts fell on deaf ears at Labour-run Corby Borough Council.
“That’s why I haven’t got a problem with this,” he says.
“Other councillors are open to what we are saying.”
He admits the new council may end up with “lots of Conservatives,” but says it will be up to other parties to provide strong opposition.
“You need strong candidates who have their voices heard for the unitary, not just the town.
“It is not Corby against Kettering, or Corby against Wellingborough. We have to join the dots.”
He says Corby will “definitely” maintain its own voice.
“We are the heart of the county. It is a lovely place. The community spirit is brilliant,” he says.
A full list of candidates for election is available on the North Northamptonshire Council website.
ENGLAND’S ELECTIONS: THE BASICS
What’s happening? On 6 May, people across England will vote for new councillors, mayors and police and crime commissioners. Register to vote here.
Why does it matter? When parties win control of a council, they decide policies for your area which could affect services ranging from social care to rubbish collection. Find out more about what councils do.
Who can vote? Anyone who lives in England, is registered to vote and aged 18 or over on 6 May is eligible. Find your local election here.
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