Opposition councillors condemn Conservatives' financial record after final Northamptonshire County Council budget is passed

Opposition councillors hit out at the financial record of the Conservatives as Northamptonshire County Council set its last ever budget.

By James Averill
Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 8:11 am
Updated Wednesday, 26th February 2020, 8:12 am
Northamptonshire County Council's last ever budget was agreed at County Hall last week
Northamptonshire County Council's last ever budget was agreed at County Hall last week

The council will be scrapped after 130 years next April to make way for two new unitary authorities, following recommendations from a government inspector who was called in when the council banned all but necessary legal expenditure two years ago.And Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent councillors queued up to criticise the financial management that led to the decision.

Labour councillor John McGhee said: “The Conservatives’ financial record is a disaster. That’s why this council is going to die after 130 years of history. It’s because of your financial mismanagement. You have failed year after year.”

And Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Stanbra said: “This is a time to reflect on the Conservatives’ management. Auditors found the county council did not provide value for money three years in a row. There were two section 114 notices. They tried to set an unlawful budget. And finally the government sent in commissioners.”

The 2020/21 budget sees council tax increase by the maximum 1.99 per cent without the need to call a referendum, while it also sees almost £23 million in ‘efficiency savings’ which are mostly focused on the adult social care area.

It comes as the county council predicts it will come in with a £29,000 underspend for the current financial year (2019/20), though it has been helped by being allowed by the government to raise council tax by 4.99 per cent – which is above the normally allowed threshold of two per cent and netted the council an extra £5.8 million.

The 2017/18 financial year saw the county council register a staggering £41 million deficit, and that black hole was plugged after the Conservative government took another unusual step in allowing the county to wipe out the deficit using its capital funding stream.

But the 2020/21 budget seemed to have few hiccups as it was set last week (February 20) at County Hall. Although a Liberal Democrat amendment to reinstate some winter gritting funding was knocked back, the Labour party offered no alternative budget. They did not, however, support the budget proposals, choosing instead to abstain.

Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw: “This budget goes a long way to deal with some of the short term problems this council has, but it leaves long term questions unanswered. And the only reason we have this budget is as a result of the Conservative party’s actions over the last few years.”

But Tory councillors hit back at comments that this year’s budget had largely been drawn up by the government-appointed commissioners.

Council leader Matt Golby said: “The Labour group can’t handle this can they? When there have been previous budgets they didn’t like it was ‘our’ budget but now there is nothing wrong with it they are saying it is somebody else’s. This budget has come from us all, councillors, officers, staff and commissioners.”

And Councillor Adam Brown added: “The Labour group almost gave the game away when they mentioned how robust this is. We are in a much better position now than we were two years ago.”