Northamptonshire accepts verdict it should be split into two

16 Mar 18

Northamptonshire County Council has accepted the findings of a government-commissioned report that it should be split up and two new unitary councils created.

The troubled local authority released a statement yesterday saying it was committed to “working alongside partners to achieve this in the timescale outlined”.

The report - carried out by Max Caller and released yesterday - called for the new councils to be set up following the elections in May 2020.

At the same time, the council announced leader Heather Smith had made the decision to resign from her position and the process to find her replacement would now take place.

Matthew Golby, deputy leader and lead member for children’s services, said the council would respond directly to the secretary of state in “the coming days”.  

“We accept the findings and we will now be acting accordingly and responding directly to the secretary of state,” he said in a statement.

“While I am pleased the report recognises the hard work and dedication of the staff and recognises recent progress in financial management it is clear that the inspector has found what he believes to be significant failings at the council.”

He added that while the report accepted Northamptonshire’s figures used “in arguing our case for fairer funding, it states we are in no worse position than other councils”.

Golby also said: “We would argue that the sector as a whole does face significant financial challenges and we will continue to work with our local government partners to present our case.”

CIPFA chief executive Rob Whiteman said the new unitary councils must still have clear financial oversight.

He added: “While the reasons for Northampton’s failure are mixed, including culture and leadership changes, it shows the importance of basics, such as strong financial management and clear budgetary oversight.

“Without these in place, alongside effective scrutiny, it will be a matter of time until this happens again.”

Rob Whiteman, CIPFA chief executive, said: “It is right for the government to act to ensure there is financial leadership of Northamptonshire County Council and also to call for local proposals on the future of the authority.

“Whatever the decision on the shape the reforms take, it is crucial that we learn the principle lessons from the county council’s failure.”

The County Council Network chair Paul Carter said it was ‘regrettable’ the report did not conclude that one unitary - the size of Northamptonshire - could be the solution. 

Counties face a £2.54bn funding gap and while other counties are not in the position of Northants, it is essential the government provide additional resources later this year to meet our growing demands,” he said. 

The report rightly calls for a fresh start and recognises that a unitary the size of Northants could be effective. But regrettably he rules out this option being explored.”

Communities secretary Sajid Javid commissioned Caller to carry out the report in January this year.

The county council issued a ‘section 114’ notice last month - thought to be the first of its kind in nearly 20 years - banning expenditure on all services, except those protecting vulnerable people.

This was because it had used up reserves and was unable to produce a balanced budget. 

Image credit: Hazel Nicholson, Flickr Images

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