Northamptonshire councillors approve tax rise budget

Councillors Bill Parker and Jim Harker unveiling their budget last year
Councillors Bill Parker and Jim Harker unveiling their budget last year

Northamptonshire county councillors have voted through a budget which the authority’s cabinet says will allow for a complete overhaul of public services.

At a meeting at County Hall today (Thursday, February 20), the 2014-15 budget – part of plans to reduce the authority’s bills by £126 million over the next five years – was voted through by councillors.

It means the county council’s share of council tax bills will be subject to a 1.99 per cent hike.

That equates to an extra £20 a year for the average household – but the council says its taxes remain the lowest of any county council in England.

There will be a total of £40 million of cuts made in 2014-15.

The council says it is embarking upon an “historic shift” in the way social care and health services are provided in the county in a new integration with the NHS and a number of new mergers and partnerships of front-line services.

There will also be £11 million invested in making improvements to its children’s services, which has come in for criticism.

Council leader Jim Harker said: “Today marks not just the approval of the budget proposals but also of a new council plan outlining a new set of priorities for Northamptonshire.

“We are now taking on a far greater role in people’s health and wellbeing and will look to build on the superb work already undertaken to save taxpayers millions of pounds while finding new innovative ways to deliver services and keep council tax rates the lowest in the country.

“We have also made it clear in this budget that some of our services have a red line around them to ensure that despite the huge financial challenges we are tackling there will be no service reductions in those areas.”

He said that there was heavy investment in children’s services, that no libraries or country parks would be closed and that there would be no reduction in efforts to mend roads and invest in infrastructure.

Cabinet member for finance, Cllr Bill Parker, added: “We pride ourselves in running a very efficient organisation and as such by 2016 through our LGSS partnership with Cambridgeshire our back office costs will account for only around two per cent of our overall budget.

“Anyone running a business or organisation will recognise what an incredible achievement that is.

“I am delighted that despite the significant pressures we face we have agreed a budget which once again sets our council tax as the lowest in the land while protecting those front line services which mean the most to people.”

Labour’s shadow portfolio holder for finance, Cllr Mick Scrimshaw, said he was disappointed the administration had not taken on board some of his party’s suggestions for how best to balance the books.

He told the Telegraph: “I think the Labour group put forward some very sensible proposals. We tabled a series of amendments that we genuinely thought enhanced what they were doing.”

He said his party wanted to find alternatives to cuts, including ways to build up the council’s reserves in order to cover future cuts in funding from central Government.

“The Government has imposed £83 million of cuts on the council. The administration are going to have to make those cuts and an extra £43 million because they had problems balancing their budget last year.

“It does seem that all they are interested in is making savings. I am sure they care about services, but in adult social care, for example, it’s going through so much change that there are very real risks.”