Commissioners say troubled Northamptonshire County Council is improving

Commissioner Tony McArdle has reported back to central government about Northamptonshire County Council.
Commissioner Tony McArdle has reported back to central government about Northamptonshire County Council.

The two commissioners in charge of turning round the fortunes of Northamptonshire County Council have told central government that the council is now ‘operating more effectively’.

In a letter sent to the Secretary of State in February, but only published this week, commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts have detailed all the work they have been involved in since joining the financially troubled council last May.

They have pointed to improvements in governance and financial management and have said that their appointment of chief executive Theresa Grant and finance director Ian Duncan have made a difference as ‘this quality is making itself felt.’

On the finance side of things the commissioners have confirmed that the overspend from 2019/20 looks to be £41m and say that ahead of the two new unitaries planned to replace existing Northamptonshire it now looks an ‘achieveable aim’ that the budgets for children’s services and adult social care can be brought under control.

The letter says: “The re-establishment of a balanced budget and the discipline of holding to it will be important characteristics in their own right and because they are fundamental to making the council’s services sustainable in day-to-day operations.

“They will also secure the financial and operational basis upon which planning of any proposed new authorities can take place.

“The restoration of confidence amongst partners, residents and the staff of the authority in the fact that, for the first time in some years, the largest council budgets within Northamptonshire are under proper control by those setting and spending against them is now an achievable aim.”

The commissioners also let James Brokenshire know their thoughts on the relationship between elected councillors and officers.

The letter says: “During our time here we have seen a lack of maturity in relationships between members and between members and officers leading to tensions in working relationships which have distracted from the delivery of outcomes and efficient running of the council. This is not a surprise given the nature of such relationships in the past.

“We are encouraging the modelling of proper relationships such that we have experienced elsewhere and facilitating better interaction. We are confident that as experience grows we will see improvement in the quality of those relationships.”

Conservative county councillor Jason Smithers, who represents the Higham Ferrers ward, said: “The commissioners have worked alongside the cabinet and officers to ensure we have a stable county council. What they have done has been somewhat amazing this year. I have been critical in the past but they have proved their worth.”

The commissioners say the tasks ahead include ensuring a balanced budget for 2018/19, working with children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam on a new operational model for children’s services and being involved in the work of the joint committees that are making plans ahead of the new super councils planned for 2020.