'Danger public being misled about millions of unitary savings' councillor warns

Colossal saving claims about the new Northamptonshire unitary councils are based on out-of-date figures that have already been ruled out.

30m of unitary savings included in a report going to the unitary committee tomorrow have already been ruled out.
30m of unitary savings included in a report going to the unitary committee tomorrow have already been ruled out.

A finance report laying out how much the unitary reorganisation of Northamptonshire will save over the next five years claims that up to £430m could be saved on services.

However the final figure is based on millions of pounds of savings in the county council’s children’s services department that cannot be made this year. Instead of ruling out the £6m unrealised savings in the service the report, which will be looked at by councillors on the West unitary committee tomorrow (January 7), has multiplied the planned savings by five.

Therefore £30m of the projected £430m saving is already in doubt.

Cllr Chris Stanbra says the figures should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Liberal Democrat county councillor Chris Stanbra, who represents Corby’s Oakley ward, says the report is flawed and there is a danger the public may be misled.

All of Northamptonshire’s existing eight councils will be abolished in April next year and replaced with two larger councils, one serving the north of the county and the other the west.

The cost of the work to bring together the new councils is costing £43.5m across this financial year and next – which is being made up of just under £19m of business rates money, almost £6m from county council funds and £2.4m committed by each of the eight councils.

The report, which has been written by East Northamptonshire’s chief finance officer Glenn Hammons, says: “The investment of £43.5m is a one-off cost and is anticipated to be incurred in 2019/20 and 2020/21. Over the medium term benefits of £85.9m are anticipated to accrue on an annual basis once they are implemented. Over a 5-year period up to £430m of benefits could accrue, a ten fold return on investment. The benefits have already started to be delivered in 2019/20, with more planned for 2020/21, and will initially benefit existing councils.”

Cllr Stanbra, who has been a serving councillor for several years and saw the financial crash of the authority, is critical of the report.

He said: “The baseline figures they are using are nearly a year out-of-date.

“They are using figures that do not fully lay out the current issue. That is something they should not do.

“In this report they should say; ‘By the way, these things have happened’, then people have the current position and can make their judgement from that.

“The fundamental thing here to remember is that in local government, plans are never delivered as exactly they are set out. The more grandiose the plan, the more risk of it not being achieved. And this is a grandiose plan. It needs to be taken with a huge pinch of salt.

“There is a danger the public could be misled.”

The county council’s latest finance monitoring report from December says that £6m of the planned £10.2m savings from children’s services this year cannot be made. This is largely because of the high use of agency staff. The department is in a fragile state and was rated as inadequate by Ofsted last year. The first children’s commissioner appointed by the government Malcolm Newsam left the job after a year, quoting ‘inherent tensions’ between his role and the role of the other government commissioners appointed to oversee the council. The director and her deputy also left shortly afterwards.

A spokesman for Future Northants, the name given to the reorganisation process – said: “The creation of the two new councils is expected to deliver significant financial benefits for the county and create natural efficiencies through economies of scale and streamlined processes, making it easier for residents to access joined up services.

“A significant element of the investment is directed towards prevention and edge of care strategies to avoid escalation of needs and crisis which costs significantly more to deal with.

“The aim of the finance report before the West and North Joint Committees meeting this month is to establish the baseline financial position for the programme rather than report a monitoring position.

“The monitoring position, which will include the latest in-year forecasts and budgets for 2020/21, is to be incorporated into the report to the next round of joint committees in February.

“It is worth noting the financial position, particularly the benefits, will evolve with the programme.”

The meeting takes place tomorrow at 6pm at the Guildhall in Northampton. Members of the public can attend. Read the full report here.