New County Council leader Cllr Matthew Golby and finance portfolio holder Cllr Michael Clarke are charged with getting Northamptonshire back on an even keel. Lena Davis sat them down with a cup of tea to hear what their plans are…
Photos by John Bishop
When you have seen Northamptonshire County Council splattered all over the news recently, I expect you have one big question – Why on earth do people become Councillors in the first place? I’ve met many over the years and, whatever their political leanings, most of them share the desire to help the rest of us get the best out of our community. Do they succeed? Well, that is certainly the question of the moment!
First, Northampton Borough Council took to the national stage with the missing millions from the Cobblers loan. Then the County Council launched a bid for stardom by their doughty new leader (now ex-Leader) Cllr Heather Smith. Heather briefly hogged the media headlines and TV screens from her swish new lair at the Angel Square offices, wagging an angry finger at one and all as the Council almost collapsed around her.
Do I understand the whys and wherefores of what happened? No. Can I criticise the County Councillors and paid officials involved? No. Perhaps one should even give praise to the business acumen of those members of the hired help who left with large payoffs during the mess, only to quickly return as “Advisors” at large daily sums of up to £1000.00 per day!
To find out what is ahead I met for a chat with two of the brave band of County Councillors who, together with Central Government officials, now hope to lead us back to the peaceful, competent and financially viable Council we’ve all grown to depend upon.
Firstly, I must confess, indeed boast, that that the County Councillor stepping up to the Cabinet role on Finance is my friend Michael Clarke. He has often spoken admiringly to me of the qualities of Cllr Matthew Golby and is delighted that Matthew is the new County Council Leader. So it came about that they recently dropped by my old homestead for a cuppa and a chat.
There are some politicians, both on the national and local stages with whom we feel safe. You know instinctively they act as our representatives and not our bosses. They know they are using our money and not their own. They speak with honesty and not rhetoric. Cllr Michael Clarke and Cllr Matthew Golby are two such men and they are now part of a Cabinet heading a County Council full of people who want to roll up their sleeves and get together with Government Representatives to make Northamptonshire what it always was – lovely!
Lena: So Matthew, what’s your background?
Matthew: My family created Golby’s Garden Centre in Duston in 1923 and I’m happy to say it is still being enjoyed by its customers up to this very day. I’ve also been involved in another business based in Northampton as a Brand and Marketing Manager. So I’ve got small and medium sized business experience if you like.
Lena: I know you’re a dad to a five year old and a three year old but do you still have time for hobbies?
Matthew: I love cricket and I played for Cogenhoe for many years.
Lena: Everyone tells me that you have raised an extraordinary amount of runs for Cogenhoe! How many was that?
Matthew: Over three thousand. It sounds a lot but it’s not really. If you play long enough you’ll score. I scored a couple of centuries and all that sort of stuff. I love playing cricket.
Lena: Although you are now Leader of Northamptonshire County Council, what were your previous Cabinet positions?
Matthew: I was Cabinet Member for Education and then I took on some more roles with Children’s Services and I became the Statutory Lead Member for Children’s Services in 2016. Then last year I became the Deputy Leader after the election in May and now I find myself being the Leader. It is quite incredible really and challenging but hope that I will do well. Obviously, I’ve been put in that position by my colleagues’ votes so I would like to think they have confidence in me. I’m determined to do the best job I can.
Lena: Have you thought of going into national politics in the future?
Matthew: Maybe, maybe. Yes, we’ll see how it goes. One thing at a time!
Lena: Now Michael Clarke, I know that you hail from the heyday, like myself and ex-Councillor Michael Hill, of Mrs Thatcher’s stronghold in North London. How long have you been in Northamptonshire now?
Michael: We arrived in 1979 and have been here ever since. Initially over at Badby near Daventry when my work was in Northampton at Brackmills. It was a bit of a long drive so we looked for somewhere that was a bit closer. My wife found this house in Denton and told me we were buying it! We have lived here happily ever since.
Lena: What was it, in the first place, that made you decide to become a County Councillor Michael?
Michael: Well, I’ve spent the best part of my career working in businesses and I wanted to use some of the skills I’ve acquired to help deliver County Council services in the most efficient way possible. As well as representing local people (Hackleton and Grange Park Division) I also wanted to try to apply my skills to the betterment of the County as a whole.
Lena: Now Michael, of course, you have been in the Cabinet before and you left rather suddenly. What actually happened?
Michael: Well, the previous Leader, who had just taken over, decided she could dispense with my services! That was, of course, her decision to make. I’m delighted that the new Leader, Matthew, has confidence in me and has given me the Finance portfolio.
Lena: As a business man, I know it is your habit whenever anyone comes to you with ideas to say “show me the figures”.
Matthew: And that’s exactly what we are now looking at – the figures.
Michael: In addition to getting everything back on an equitable footing, we will be charting a new course. In two years’ time we will be part of two Unitary Councils, one in the north and one in the south.
Lena: Is that a definite decision or something yet to decide?
Matthew: It’s not one hundred percent definite but there has been a very clear steer from Government and our MP’s that Northamptonshire needs to be split into two Unitary Councils. So that basically means abolishing the current eight local authorities and forming two. One for the North for East Northants, Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby and then one for the south which will be Northampton, South Northamptonshire and Daventry. This involves a hell of a lot of work. Anybody that’s been involved in Local Government knows that the unitary debate in question can be one of the most divisive issues that you’d have in local Government. So we’ve got our work cut out.
Lena: I know. Although, I’ve seen that Milton Keynes Unitary Council works extremely well.
Matthew: Yes and I’ve been with some other leaders recently at a meeting and was having a chat with the leader of Central Bedfordshire which is a Unitary. He was telling me about some of the pitfalls they went through in setting that up. But, on the whole, it works more efficiently than things work round here.
Lena: So how are things going at present?
Matthew: To me it is very clear. We needed to make two or three quite sharpish and bold moves and they seemed to resonate well with the likes of the Counties MP’s. One of the very first things I did was pick up the phone to all the MP’s and say “Hello, we acknowledge what’s gone wrong in the past but we are really committed to working together with you, working with the Government and working with the District and Borough Councils, to put things right.” It was almost like I’ve turned a page.
Lena: How did they reply?
Matthew: Every single one of them said “we’re here to help and we’re here to support you.” Twenty-four hours before they were saying something completely different to the media so, to me, what we’ve already done has been very simple and effective. It is also quite clear what needs to happen. We have just got to do it the right way and get the right people, like Michael and other colleagues from all political parties, to work together on behalf of the whole of Northamptonshire.
Lena: I can see that you have a lot of hard work ahead of you. Would you like to sum up?
Matthew: There are three very simple things. It is relationships, trust and confidence in the people we work with, the people we represent, our big partners like the other Councils and Government as well. If you look back over the last five, ten years or whatever, the relationships had got to a very bad state. None more so than those with the MP’s and that’s manifested itself in all the stuff that was said in the media publicly, which wasn’t very good at all. A big part of it is relationships. Relationships are key to my role and I thinks that’s what I’ve brought – a fresh approach.
Lena: Are you thinking of bringing any fresh faces to the Cabinet?
Matthew: We’ve done that. The Deputy Leader is Cecile Irving-Swift. Then there is Victoria Perry who’s dealing with Children’s Services and Lizzie Bowen who is dealing with Adult Social Care. Of course, Michael Clarke is handling Finance and Cecile, as Deputy Leader, is dealing with Public Health. We’ve added a gentleman called Andy Mercer who is handling what we’ve labelled as a sort of Local Government Transformation and Performance man to get into the nitty gritty of the runnings of the Council. Then there is Ian Morris who is dealing with all the Highways, Transportation and Fire Service. Plus, of course, Cllr Suresh Patel who is the Whip.
Lena: Thank you both and good luck to you all, not just from myself and not just from the NeneQuirer but, I am sure, from everyone in Northamptonshire.