Northamptonshire County Council will be scrapped in April next year and replaced by two unitary authorities for the North and West of the county.
It comes after government appointed inspectors found that the county council was not offering value for money, having been sent in when the authority was cash strapped and in crisis two years ago.
Since then the finances have been stabilised, with the council expected to balance its books this year (2019/20) while today it set a balanced budget for its final year of existence (2020/21).
And Councillor Matt Golby, the Conservative leader, welcomed what he saw as an ‘opportunity’ for Northamptonshire to move forward.
Speaking at County Hall today (February 20) as the 2020/21 budget was approved, he said: “This is a big opportunity to reset some of our priorities and to rewrite the book. I’m not sad that this is our last budget. We have to put some ambition in and use it as a point to move everything forward.”
The budget meeting was less fiery than in recent years, with the Labour group not offering any amendments and the Lib Dems only offering a small amendment to reinstate £300,000 of precautionary winter gritting routes and a £5,000 empowerment fund for each councillor that was earmarked to be scrapped. They said this could be achieved by reducing the contingency contribution from £2 million to £1.4 million.
That amendment was rejected, with Councillor Golby saying: “The whole point of this budget is financial stability. We are looking to increase our contingency, and this takes money away from that contingency. That is not the right thing to do.”
The 20/21 budget includes a 1.99 per cent council tax rise, a two per cent social care precept increase, a pay rise for staff of four per cent and boosts reserves up to the £42 million mark. It also has almost £23 million of ‘efficiency savings’ mostly targeting adult social services.
Councillor Golby said the ‘robust’ budget would help get the new unitary councils off to a ‘solid’ start. He said: “This is the last budget ahead of the transition to two new unitary authorities. Our financial challenges are well known but I’m pleased to say that we will be starting the coming year in a strong and stable position.
“But there is always more work to be done and we will continue with our prudent spending controls to ensure the savings are achieved and increase the financial robustness of the council.”