Monday's draft budget can get county council 'back on even keel' says new finance chief

Northamptonshire County Council will reveal its draft budget for 2019/20 on Monday
Northamptonshire County Council will reveal its draft budget for 2019/20 on Monday

Northamptonshire County Council’s new chief finance officer says that draft budget proposals to be revealed on Monday will finally present a chance for the cash-stricken authority to get ‘back on an even keel’.

It has been a hectic few days for the county council, with the news that Secretary of State James Brokenshire MP has allowed the council to use £70million of capital receipts to help tackle the £35million deficit for 2017/18 and replenish its reserves.

That announcement came yesterday afternoon, as did the news that the government’s consultation on proposals to abolish the county and district councils to make way for two new unitary authorities was now open for comment, and that local elections planned for 2019 had been suspended.

Earlier that morning, new chief finance director Ian Duncan had been given an opportunity to introduce himself to councillors at an audit committee meeting.

Mr Duncan had previously worked with new chief executive Theresa Grant at Trafford Council, (both are pictured above) and also has stints with local councils in Thameside, Solihull and Wiltshire on his CV.

Speaking at yesterday’s audit meeting (November 29) he said: “People have asked me why I have come here, and that’s because there’s nothing else quite like it from a professional perspective. It’s the unique nature of the challenge. If I didn’t express an interest, it would have been an itch with me forever.

“In terms of reorganisation it’s something I’ve not been involved in before and I want to experience.

“I joined on November 1 and my feet have touched on the ground because on Monday we will be drafting our budget for 2019/20. It will be a budget that balances.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is because of the legacy issues from last year and the in-year pressures for this year. There was a big target that became bigger after the unravelling of the audit.

“Next year is our opportunity to get back on an even keel, but it’s not without its challenges.”

The audit committee discussed a host of other challenges that the newly appointed Mr Duncan will need to keep his eye on.

It included external auditors KPMG saying that its audit of the latest accounts had faced further delays, and that this would be costing the council an extra £230,000 on top of the original fee of £130,000.

It was the second time this week that KPMG director Andrew Cardoza had told a Northampton based council that delays in the process was costing them extra money - having informed Northampton Borough Council on Monday that its original £80,000 fee was likely to reach up to £400,000 due to errors in council dwelling valuations.

The county council audit meeting also saw committee member Councillor John McGhee ask for an update on the investigation into NEA Properties, after it was revealed the council owned company had made a £60,000 payment to a cabinet member's private firm in 2014.

Councillor McGhee was told that the authority is still looking for much of the information requested, not helped by a heavy turnover of senior staff that had taken place recently - including Mr Duncan.