Northants approves ‘core spending’ priorities

9 Aug 18

Northamptonshire County Council has voted to accept stripped-down spending plans.

Councillors voted to accept the core spending priorities, proposed last week, as the council looks to save £70m to achieve a balanced budget for 2018-19.

The core spending priorities include safeguarding vulnerable children and adults, providing statutory public health services, and meeting the “critical and substantial” needs of older people.

At an emergency full council meeting on Thursday, members also agreed the budget recovery action plan that identified measures required to significantly reduce spending after the council issued an unprecedented second Section 114 notice.

The council will now have to seek the approval of a panel, chaired by the chief executive, before spending more than £1,000.

A ‘transformation task force’ will also be set up to identify cost reductions in line with Northamptonshire’s agreed priorities.

The council will review the value of its property portfolio and look at savings that can be made by selling some of the property it owns.

Council leader Matt Golby said: “The budget recovery action plan and the approval of our core services demonstrates our commitment to making the difficult but necessary decisions to stabilise our budget.

“We know that 70% of the council’s spend is through contracts with third party suppliers, and a large piece of this work will be to review all of these contracts against the new priorities on a contract by contract basis.”

Golby added that the council was “determined to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities”.

The agreed core services also include maintenance of highways, footpaths, verges, street lighting and traffic signals, a statutory trading standards service, a “comprehensive and efficient” library service and a limited number of household waste disposal centres.

The County Councils Network warned that ‘core offers’ like the ones issued by Northamptonshire and East Sussex will become the norm without additional resources.

Paul Carter, CCN chair and leader of Kent County Council, said: “Northamptonshire has not managed austerity well and there is evidence of poor management and decision making. However, this shouldn’t detract from the significant challenges facing all counties.

“It is clear that unless government finds a long-term solution to council funding and a fairer distribution of resources between authorities, other well managed county councils could find themselves unable to balance the books.”

CCN research found that just one in three county leaders are confident of setting a balanced budget in 2020-21.

 

Timeline

January 2018 – Then communities secretary Sajid Javid sends in the inspector Max Caller to investigate the council’s financial management

February 2018 – The council issues the first Section 114 notice in 20 years, banning all spending except on statutory services

February 2018 – The council plans to sell off their brand new headquarters to generate cash

February 2018 – Auditors warn the council’s budget may not be lawful

February 2018 – The council passes a revised budget

March 2018 – Inspector Max Caller publishes report recommending the county is split into two unitaries

March 2018 – Council accepts the report’s findings; leader Heather Smith steps down

March 2018 – Javid announces that the council will continue to make majority of decisions despite government commissioners’ involvement

April 2018 – Matthew Golby appointed new council leader

April 2018 – Leaseback agreement of headquarters is agreed

May 2018 – Council announces plans to set up improvement board

May 2018 – Council balances its books with the use of reserves

May 2018 – Commissioners are announced by new secretary of state James Brokenshire

May 2018 – Auditor’s interim report reveals potential figure of PHE grant repayment

June 2018 – Final sum of misspent PHE grant is settled

July 2018 – CEO and CFO step down

July 2018 – New CEO appointed

July 2018 – Second Section 114 order is issued

August 2018 – Council produces spending ‘action plan’ in response to Section 114

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