Northamptonshire in £6m legal wranglings with boroughs and districts

A total of £6m of council tax receipts Northamptonshire County Council was banking on from the boroughs and districts is the subject of legal wrangles.

A key part of the authority’s £19.9m stabilisation plan was for the seven districts and boroughs to pay the money from council tax receipts out of their collection fund accounts.
However, the funds may not get to the county council’s bank account in time to balance the books as the chief finance officers at the borough and district councils are questioning whether the transfer is something they can do.

The boroughs and districts collect the council tax but the lion’s share of the precept goes to the county council. Parish councils, police and the boroughs also take a smaller share.

At the county’s health and wellbeing board yesterday the chief executive of East Northamptonshire Council, David Oliver, said the borough and districts had been concerned that the stabilisation plan devised by the two commissioners overseeing the authority had been developed without borough input.

He said: “The commissioners made assumptions about collection levels without having a conversation with us about it.

“There are two different views about what is legal and what is not. We will do whatever we can. Our finance officers have a statutory responsibility and they are not going to do anything that the auditors will question.”

Council leader Matt Golby said that knowing the recent financial history of the county council, the commissioners would not propose anything that was ‘illegal’.

Mr Oliver said matters had now improved and the finance commissioner Brian Roberts was having weekly conversations with the borough and districts finance chiefs.

So far only £1.3m of the stabilisation has been achieved with just five months before the April end of year deadline.

There are also pressures on the other £35m worth of savings and the £35m overspend from 2017/18 is still to be dealt with.

Mr Oliver said there were differences between the commissioners’ agenda and that of the council leaders and chief executives who are trying to come up with plans to move local authority services to a unitary system.

He said: “They are not concerned about the legacy. As long as they balance the books, job done.

“We are trying to reinforce at every opportunity that it is not a short-term fix. The rest of us have to live with those decisions.”