Northamptonshire County Council gets closer to balanced budget but questions asked over staff vacancies

Northamptonshire County Council is moving closer to balancing its books at the end of this financial year but questions are being asked about what role staff vacancies are playing in the authority’s improved financial position.

By Sarah Ward
Monday, 20th January 2020, 12:50 pm
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 12:52 pm
The council's cabinet member for finance Malcolm Longley said it is 'still to early to be optimistic'.
The council's cabinet member for finance Malcolm Longley said it is 'still to early to be optimistic'.

The latest finance report that went to the cabinet last week (Jan 14) showed the council is now predicting a £549,000 overspend on its budget, a £1.4m improvement on the previous month.

The healthier financial situation was welcomed by the chair of the scrutiny committee Cllr Mick Scrimshaw but he said at the end of this month his committee will be looking at whether staff vacancies are contributing to the savings.

The authority came up with a savings masterplan last February to shave just over £41m from across its departments. Coming towards the end of the financial year the council is reporting some of those savings cannot be made, but instead have been made from other areas, with large savings made through vacancies in customer services, libraries, democratic services, environment services

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Cllr Scrimshaw said: “Scrutiny at the end of this month will be looking in depth at the in-year financial position.

“One thing that we will be looking at, this report is littered with lists of savings proposals from the original budget that are not going to be met in full. Also again and again throughout the report across various departments of the council, one of the ways that finances are being mitigated against those savings proposals not coming through, is the financial benefit we are getting from not filling staff vacancies.

“One of the things we want to get an understanding of is, are those two related? Is it the extra pressure and lack of capacity in our workforce that has meant those (original) savings proposals are not going to be delivered?”

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Malcolm Longley said he was pleased the overspending children’s department had stabilised.

He said: “The significant points are for the third month running we have a stable children’s position. However on the risk side of things we do now have a traumatic impact down at the hospital side of things and that could prove to be quite negative.

“It is looking good for the year end but it still too early to be optimistic.”

The county’s two acute hospitals have reported high patient numbers this year, which could in turn impact on the adult social services budget, as the two budgets are closely linked.