The ‘failure’ of Northamptonshire County Council has been ‘pushed onto local people’ according to the shadow Secretary of State for local government.
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne raised the well documented crisis at One Angel Square in a debate on local government and social care funding in the House of Commons on Wednesday afternoon (April 24).
Mr Gwynne said: “In this place our discussion has been dominated by Brexit, but across the country our local councils, and the local services people rely on, are straining at the seams.
“Years of uncertainty and unfair funding have created a quiet crisis that is now impossible to ignore. Under this government, the facts speak for themselves, local authorities have faced a reduction to core funding of nearly £16 billion since 2010.
“The cost of the failure of Tory-controlled Northamptonshire County Council has been pushed on to local people because the Secretary of State allowed it to raise its tax above normal limits as it grapples with bankruptcy. Local people are paying the price of Tory mismanagement, that is what happens when the Tories do not fund local government and are in charge of the town hall.”
But Secretary of State, James Brokenshire MP, said that the government had given local authorities a ‘real-terms increase in funding’.
In the last financial year, the county council had a £40million deficit, and effectively declared itself bankrupt twice. It appears to have turned a corner after balancing its budget for the current financial year, but relied heavily on permission to use £70million of capital funds - normally set aside for infrastructure projects - to use in its revenue stream to continue funding services.
Mr Brokenshire also allowed the authority to raise council tax by 4.99 per cent, more than is usually allowed, for the next financial year in a bid to further balance the books.
Debate has raged as to whether the cash crisis was down to lack of government funding, poor decision making locally, or a combination of the two. But the council's performance was a hot topic of discussion in the Commons yesterday.
Mr Brokenshire hit back: “This year we have given our local authorities access to £46.4 billion, a cash increase of 2.8 per cent and a real-terms increase in funding. The settlement includes extra funds for local services, with a strong focus on support for some of our most vulnerable groups.
“It is part of a four-year settlement that has been accepted by 97 per cent of local authorities, and gives so many areas access to substantially more funding than the least deprived.
“I pay tribute to the leadership and creativity of our councils, which deliver high-quality services for their residents and efficiencies for the taxpayer. We are determined to give them the freedoms and flexibilities they need so that local government can continue to flourish and deliver vital services to meet the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.”
No update was given by Mr Brokenshire as to when he is likely to come to a decision on whether to approve proposals to abolish the existing councils in the county, and replace them with two unitary authorities.
The new councils were due to be formed for April 2020, but concerns are building that the timeline will be delayed with no decision yet to be made.
Local elections have already been suspended in the county for May this year.