Draft budget revealed for new North Northamptonshire unitary – and includes maximum council tax increase

The first ever draft budget for the new North Northamptonshire unitary council has been unveiled.

Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 2:36 pm
Updated Thursday, 3rd December 2020, 2:39 pm
The draft budget of the new North Northamptonshire Council, which will replace the district, borough and county councils next April, has been published.

It will see council tax increase by the maximum amount allowed which will bring an extra £8 million into the new council, which officially launches in April next year.

Heralded as a ‘fresh start’ by leaders, it does however present many of the same challenges faced by the outgoing county council which it will replace. The draft budget, for the 2021/22 financial year, still has a £10 million funding gap that needs to be filled despite the addition of the extra council tax income. The authority says this is largely down to the coronavirus pandemic creating pressure ‘that no-one could have foreseen’.

The total draft revenue budget is £266.2 million with the new authority providing all local government services in the north of the county, which includes Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough and East Northants. These services include housing and economic regeneration, leisure and tourism and waste disposal and collection.

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It is proposed that council tax is increased by 4.99 per cent, made up of a 1.99 per cent core tax and a three per cent adult social care precept, which is the maximum amount permitted without holding a referendum. This would see an average Band D property pay £1,532.90 in 2021/211, working out at £29.48 per week. Despite the increase, it remains £2.12 a week below the national average for Band D contributions.

The wider transformation programme is set to deliver £80 million of savings across all eight councils in Northamptonshire, with another unitary being set up in the West of the county that will merge Northampton, Daventry and South Northamptonshire.

But the pressures of COVID have helped contribute towards the £10 million gap that needs to be found in the North.

A report, which will be read by councillors at the shadow executive meeting next Monday (December 7), states: “To fund the remaining gap the council will continue to work with the Government to receive a fair financial settlement. The Local Government Finance Settlement is expected to be announced in mid December, and alongside this the council will continue to develop ways in which it can produce a balanced budget for 2021-22 and over the medium term.”

Cllr Russell Roberts, shadow leader of North Northamptonshire Council and the current leader of Kettering Council, maintained however that the benefits of moving to two unitary councils would be felt in the long run, if not right now.

He said: “This is a fresh start for North Northamptonshire Council and I’m confident that we can build on the good work that has already been started to transform services in the county.

“However, as we all know, COVID-19 has had a massive impact on everyone, not just here in the county but also worldwide, and this has had an impact on our finances at least in the short term.

“But we are working hard to address this and indeed, we are already making inroads into closing this gap.

“Local government reorganisation is absolutely right for Northamptonshire and the benefits of creating two new councils in the county is huge and will benefit everyone in the long term.”

But the Corby based leader of the Liberal Democrat party at the county council, Cllr Chris Stanbra, questioned whether it really was a fresh start at all.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It’s more of a different start, but for county councillors there’s a bit of deja vu about this budget. There’s £10 million of savings to find, and I think they will be pinning their hopes on getting that in COVID grants. But in the following years there are huge amounts of savings to find as well – £21 million in 2022/23 and £33 million in 23/24.

“It’s a worry that from day one it’s going to be set up to find itself in the same position as the county council which is scrabbling around for savings that may or may not stack up. Before you know it the savings are being shunted onto the next year and you end up having to put a section 114 in place. Now I’m not saying that is going to happen again, but the precursor budgets at the county council looked like this as well.

“I always say that the devil is in the detail, but this year the devil is in the detail that isn’t there because of the final government settlement not being finalised yet. There’s nothing in there about reserves, and there’s not even a best case estimate. That has a huge bearing on the budget.”

Cllr Ian Jelley is the shadow portfolio holder for finances and revenues and benefits, and is taking responsibility for the first budget.

He added: “I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work that has taken place to transform and develop services in the lead up to vesting day and I’m confident that this has allowed the council to be in a strong position going forward to us becoming operational on April 1.

“There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has had a large effect on our finances but I believe that this is an obstacle that we have to overcome to take forward the good practises we now have in place, so that we can provide the very best services and support for the residents of North Northamptonshire.”