North Northamptonshire Council waves through a balanced budget - but alarm is raised over gaping future financial 'black holes'

‘You have lost the plot’
North Northamptonshire Council meets at the Corby Cube. Image: National WorldNorth Northamptonshire Council meets at the Corby Cube. Image: National World
North Northamptonshire Council meets at the Corby Cube. Image: National World

Plans for how North Northamptonshire Council will spend its £764m budget during the forthcoming year have been voted through.

At a fiery six-hour budget meeting yesterday (Thursday, February 22), the ruling Conservative party proposed their plans on how the authority will manage the purse-strings during the 2024/25 financial year, which starts on April 1.

The overall budget includes £388m ringfenced for schools.

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There are now 157,670 homes in our area. Council tax for a Band D home will rise to £1,740.22, an annual increase of £82.71 - the maximum 4.99 per cent.

Lead member for finance Lloyd Bunday (Con, Ise) criticised the way the government allocates money – known as a ‘settlement’ – to councils.

He said: “Settlements being for just one year and the failure of government to provide a forecasted settlement over several years has added to financial pressures, risks and uncertainties.. that this and other local authorities face.”

He warned that although the authority had managed to balance its budget for 2024/5, next year it was facing a potential shortfall of £41.5m, rising to £87.5m by the end of 2028.

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Cllr Anne Lee (Lab, Windmill) said: “No amount of jumping up and down by our leader and MPs – although one of them had other fish to fry – has has much effect on obtaining more funding.”

She said she was disappointed the executive had not come through on its election promise to scrap car parking fees in Kettering and Corby.

Cllr Hakewill called it a ‘Frankenstein budget’. He said: “It’s made up of a series of parts that don’t fit together.

"There’s no focus on what must be done in the times the nation has been led into.

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“We’ve heard this is a balanced budget. It’s balanced by taking away services that people want and love to go to the backstop of doing what the government says ‘thou shalt do’ without question.

"We’ll continue to bump along the worst maintained roads in history, damaging our cars and sending out all the wrong messages to those who visit.

Referring to future budget ‘black holes, he said: “Those figures are worse than anything that occurred at the county council.”

Opposition leader Cllr Matt Keane (Lab, Corby West) said he hoped the problems were not being ‘kicked down the road for the next administration.’ He said: “Despite the pleas to government and the sacrifices our boroughs and districts made to become a unitary, we’re three years in and the transformation has been sluggish.”

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Cllr Mark Pengelly (Lab, Lloyds) said: “This council have run out of ideas and we’re failing the public. It’s 2024 and we’re sending people outside the county because we can’t pay the threshold needed in our care homes.

"We’re paying millions of pounds in agency staff. The Children’s Trust is out of control. For SEND education, how we have failed hundreds of families in this county, it’s deplorable. How much are we paying in legal fees and compensation and how many children in this county are not getting the daily education they deserve because of the failures of this council?

"Highways – remember NCC had a failing service so we get told by the executive member ‘come along and hear about this new company that’s taking over’. It sounds like Kier, it looks like Kier, It’s Kier! It’s the same company. They’re failing us again.”

Labour proposed amendments that included a celebratory event for volunteers during volunteer week, better council employee recognition, a plan for SEND officers to hold regular open sessions with parents at family centres. Leading the opposition charge, Cllr Lee also asked for the implementation of a £150,000 traffic camera scheme in Newland Street, Kettering.

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Cllr Jim Hakewill (Ind, Rothwell) said the voluntary sector had borne the brunt of cuts during the past decade. He said: “If you give a pound to a voluntary organisation, they will raise £8-£10.

"I think all those voluntary organisations that exist in Northants deserve far better recognition. The only way we can start to do things that will help with things like our adult and children’s social care situation is to get prevention under way.. to prevent those members of our community falling onto our safety net.”

Cllr Bunday said he would not support the amendments because they were ‘not budget items’, they were ‘business as usual items’.

Cllr Lee said: “This is the sort of arrogance that is no appropriate. It will cost you dear. You have lost the plot. You have lost support from our residents and this proves you don’t realise it.”

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Cllr Dorothy Maxwell (Con, Irthlingborough) said that the authority already supported volunteers ‘all the time’ and said that SEND advice and support was already available.

She said: “They can get it whenever they wish. Social services are there to help them.”

The Labour amendments were voted down, and dismissed as ‘back of a cigarette packet’ proposals by deputy leader Cllr Helen Howell (Con, Raunds), who said that there was no need for a £15,000 ‘jolly’ for volunteers.

Green alliance members also proposed an amendment to the budget.

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Leader Cllr Emily Fedorowycz (Green, Clover Hill) called for the appointment of a bid writer to apply for green funding pots to address climate change. Her amendment was supported by Labour members, but not by the majority of the Conservative group. There was one Conservative rebel – Cllr Joseph Smyth (Con, Rothwell) – who voted for the green amendments. Another Conservative, Cllr Elliot Prentice (Con, Ise) abstained.

Cllr Fedorowycz said: “On paper we’ve achieved a balanced budget but we must ask ourselves at what cost, and for how long?

“If we were running a business would we consider it sustainable to postpone addressing these fundamental problems hoping for a miraculous turnaround?

“The only responsible course of action is to declare the need for help now and seek external advice and face these challenges head on, together.”