Levelling Up: An interview with the leader of West Northants Council

As part of our new Levelling Up series we speak to Jonathan Nunn about tackling poverty in West Northants

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By Natalie Bloomer

This week we interviewed the leader of West Northamptonshire Council Jonathan Nunn. With the launch of our new Levelling Up series we decided to use the opportunity to hear what he thinks can be done to tackle poverty and improve the areas identified as being ‘left behind’.

A priority for Nunn is to get started on the council’s anti-poverty strategy. The plans are in the early stages but the leader of the council says it’s vital to get it moving.

“I’m chomping at the bit to get it rolling - if we don’t get moving, people’s lives will be in the same state in three or four years times as they have been and that’s not good enough.

“The council can’t possibly come up with all the answers and deliver on this alone. It’s far better to get other people involved. Not only do you get a better answer if you ask more people but you also get something that people will buy into more than they might if it was just another council initiative.”

He says he wants to involve as many local organisations working in the poverty sector as possible, no matter how big or small they might be.

“We need to get every possible organisation involved, the big organisations like Hope but even the smallest of food banks. Our aim is to write a strategy with all of these people involved.

“We know this is a problem we’ve got to solve, not just because we should be driven by compassion in everything we do but also for the impact it will have on everybody - the economy, vibrancy and education attainment. If you engage all the individual groups you have a massive resource.”

A major part of NN Journal’s Levelling Up project is ensuring the residents of these areas are front and centre of any discussions on how to change things. Nunn says he’ll be interested to read the articles we produce in the series and recognises the importance of hearing about people’s lived experience. 

The council has been looking at what works elsewhere and has been impressed by an initiative in Salford. The council there launched an anti-poverty strategy in 2017 and says to drive forward delivery “it is imperative that those people with first hand experiences of living in poverty are central to the process”. The authority also produces an annual report to track any progress that has been made.

“That’s something we’ll commit to as well - I like the idea of an annual report, I don’t think that’s something we should shy away from.”

The two ‘left behind’ areas in the West are Talavera and Kings Heath in Northampton. Nunn says money has been invested in those areas but understands more needs to be done. 

“Both Talavera and Kings Heath have done okay out of public funding in the past, there’s often initiatives going on in those areas. But when you have two areas which have been identified as ‘left behind’ like this you have to do something about it. 

“We’re planning to find out what the issues are and I have met with Councillor Dennis Meredith recently to hear about the problems in Talavera. Next week I will be visiting the area with some other cabinet members to look around with Cllr Meredith and see the issues for myself.”

One of the aims of the anti-poverty strategy in Salford is to become the first place in England to be recognised for its ambition to become a Living Wage City. The local authority wants to see more than double the number of Real Living Wage accredited employers based in the city over the next few years.

Councillor Emma Roberts recently proposed a motion for West Northants Council to themselves become an accredited Living Wage employer. It wasn’t passed.

“I completely get aspirations for the Real Living Wage and right now we’re trying to work out the numbers on that,” Nunn says.

“The aim to ensure everybody has a fair and reasonable wage is correct. We would all get more out of those people if we could do that. The challenge is we still don’t know how big the costs will be for other strategies.”

As NN Journal has reported previously there are officers at the authority on big wages, including one who was being paid almost £1k a day. 

“I get it. That’s what we had to pay but I don’t like it. One of the few costs we can control is wages and there is a certain pay structure. It’s not fair for me to just say ‘well it’s always been like that so it’s not my fault’ because I have to be responsible for that. But we have to be really careful. 

“The difference in pay is not fair, it’s not proportionate but at the lower end of the pay scale, you have to be really careful not to run away with things and promise something that isn’t there.”

Nunn says he understands the toll poverty can take on a person’s life and says he’s serious about working with local people to create an anti-poverty strategy that makes a real difference. 

“I know how important it is. I’ve had times in my life where I’ve been seriously skint, it’s horrible. It’s not only a constant preoccupation but it makes you feel really undervalued.”

In September we’ll be bringing you a report on each of the ‘left behind’ areas (they are Kingswood and Hazel Leys in Corby, Kings Heath and Talavera in Northampton, Queensway in Wellingborough and the Grange estate in Kettering). If you’d like to contribute to the project please email either Natalie or Sarah on Nbloomer@nnjournal.co.uk or sarahward@nnjournal.co.uk

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