The financial problems that brought about the demise of Northamptonshire County Council
There have been numerous press articles on this issue (see links below).
Basically, the County Council could have opted for a small increase each year in line with the government cap (2% or 3%) cumulative. Over time, across the county. this would have amounted to a significant sum. Instead they went with ideological dogma and insisted on zero increases and almost went bankrupt. Now we will all pay the price and could spend years trying to get the budget back on track in the new North Northants Council.
The total debt handed over to the two new councils (Northants North and Northants West) is over £500 million and could take up to 50 years to pay off.
Dean Cornwall says –
‘A consistent and stable rise over a period of time to continue to provide essential front line services is the duty of any responsible authority. What we have seen at the previous County and Borough Councils is a decision not to do this and cut services. It should not then fall to lower tier councils to pick up the pieces and introduce excessive precept rises to cover the gaps in services that should be provided by the future unitary authority. It should also not be the case that a Parished area gets to pay twice vs an Unparished area, as was the case previously’.
Mick Scrimshaw – Who was chair of the Scrutiny Committee at County hall for the past two years writes –
‘Agree totally about small tax rises around the level of inflation would have been better and stopped the large increases over the last few years which have all been at the maximum allowed by law, but it was also about how they spent the money they did have, and how inefficient they were. Other councils up and down the country were much more imaginative and efficient in how they dealt with the national cuts imposed on them, and found better ways of doing the same things at a lower cost, including finding investment streams to bring in extra income without the need to rely on the simple answer of putting-up council tax.
NCC also spent an absolute fortune setting up their ‘Next Generation Working’ project which was supposed to outsource the entire work of the council to private and other organisations with the idea that using a private business model would automatically be better and cheaper, but none of that was true.
There were no proper business cases prepared or robust preparations, so the Tory Councillors arguing for such a model were not able to say how it would actually work. All this at a time where other councils and the sector as a whole was moving back to in-house provision because it had proved to be better and more efficient in the long run.
The Tories rely on the fact the electorate think they are good with money but this is simply not true! You often hear them talk about their personal business experience assuming the public will think as they do that this is a good thing, but actually the motivation for running a private business and an organisation providing public services is totally different and running the finances of such large organisations like councils is nothing like providing a solid bottom line for a business. What is needed is more imaginative thinking and thinking designed to ensure good services are provided as the priority, very often the Conservatives and their business experience has simply led them to take advice from others without really understanding it, and certainly without questioning it which is why the previous scrutiny role at NCC and other councils has come in for so much criticism’.