INTERVIEW: Northants county council boss speaks out on Â£82.9m cuts
The chief executive of cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council said he would be willing to step down if the districts made an overwhelming call for the county to adopt unitary authority status - but the boss said the government is not likely to support such a move.
Before Christmas the county council announced plans to slash an unprecedented £77 million from its 2016/17 budget as a result of a massive reduction in the amount the authority receives from Westminster. Recent figures suggest the total cuts figure will now be a massive £82.9 million.
In an interview with the Chronicle & Echo, chief executive Paul Blantern talked about the challenges faced at County Hall in response to the shock reaction from members of the public.
The massive cuts have prompted many to call for a scrapping or replacing the seven districts and single county council with two large unitary authorities.
Kettering borough councillor Michael Brown said: “The days of various councils trying to protect their own interests and sitting in their bunkers, pointing fingers at the other one, have to come to an end.
“By merging the district and borough councils with the county council you could strip away many roles such as chief executives – some on six-figure salaries.”
In response Mr Blantern said unitary authorities will only happen in Northamptonshire when the government begins offering major financial incentives to do so.
He said: “I have publicly said, do you know what, if it is the interest of the people in Northamptonshire that we create different vehicles (councils) and I have to go, then so be it. Don’t think that chief executives are just sitting there protecting their own interests.
“I can only comment for myself. But this government has a non-unitary agenda, it’s got a de-centralisation agenda and a combined authorities agenda.
“If every single one of the councils in this county wanted to go to unitaries, we could have that conversation, but we know the government doesn’t want to.”
Instead Mr Blantern said Northamptonshire’s seven district and borough councils need to begin looking at the “bigger picture” and working more closely with the county council to save money.
Last year the council proposed joining up with the lower tier councils to share a single waste collection and recycling contract, which it said would save £7 million.
But an agreement could not be found with all council chief executives, because it would have meant some authorities would end up paying more than their current contracts. But Mr Blantern said: “This has to change absolutely.
“I think there is an absolute duty on everybody who provides public service right now, all have a duty to do what is in the total interest of the people in Northamptonshire first.”
Meanwhile the chief executive will now plough on with plans to begin outsourcing the services carried out by Northamptonshire County Council to four mutual companies, in a move which he says will make a £148 million saving by 2020, though some fear the plan is a step towards privitisation.