Northamptonshire County Council is set to meet for arguably one of the biggest meetings in its history this Thursday (August 9).
The decisions that will be taken at County Hall this week will have large implications as the cash-stricken authority attempts to slash its spending by up to £70 million for this financial year.
But what are the decisions that will be made, and what will their impact be? Here we take a look at the three things that will happen on Thursday evening.
SECTION 114 NOTICE
The first item on the agenda is for the council to discuss the latest Section 114 notice issued by outgoing chief finance officer Mark McLaughlin in July.
Mr McLaughlin has had to issue two such orders in the last six months. Prior to the first one in February, there has only ever been two issued across the country since 1988.
The chief finance officer is required to issue such a notice if it appears that the council's expenditure in a financial year is likely to exceed its available resources.
The council is legally required to decide whether it agrees or disagrees with the views contained in Mr McLaughlin’s report. Councillors will vote on whether to accept or reject the report and what action, if any, it will take as a result.
THE ACTION PLAN
County councillors will also decide whether to approve an action plan which has been set out by council officers. The action plan will be proposed to the two government appointed commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts, and then authority given to new chief executive, Theresa Grant, to carry it out.
The action plan is split up into four sectors, which deal with the following:
1. Radical service reductions
This will be the most brutal part of the upcoming cuts, and will be the most visible to members of the public. Areas being examined for cuts include children’s services, adult social care, transport, waste management and culture (such as museums). There is a high risk they will be reduced to the basic legal requirement. There will also be staff redundancies, while Private Finance Initiatives (PFI) for outsourced service contracts will be renegotiated.
2. Extended controls on expenditure
Any expenditure over £1,000 (excluding on vulnerable children and adult placements) will now require signing off centrally. There will be restrictions on officers being able to enter new contracts and place orders.
3. Maximising income
A big council tax increase is likely, after years of the council avoiding such a rise was earmarked as a potential reason why the financial crisis is as bad as it is. There will also be a review of all fees and charges paid to the council, including business rates.
4. Transferring services
Where possible, county council services could be transferred to other organisations. This means that the county’s district and borough councils, and the voluntary sector, will be heavily relied on to continue services such as subsidised rural bus services, community libraries and grass cutting.
The emotive full council meeting last week on August 1 saw councillors debate a set of priorities - known as the ‘agreed hierarchies’ - against which to benchmark potential cuts to services. They were identified as the following:
1. Keeping vulnerable people safe
2. Keeping people who are not classified as vulnerable, safe
3. Complying with statutory duties where there is not a risk of harm
4. Providing services that have a clear cost avoidance impact
5. Supporting the democratic process and engaging with local communities beyond statutory requirements
The more a potential expenditure meets these thresholds, the more priority it will be given when considering the large-scale cuts.
Councillors will be asked to agree to this ‘decision-making hierarchy’ and to agree to the ‘Core Offer’ of services being offered by the council, which is essentially the statutory minimum.
Again, councillors will agree to delegate authority on implementing this plan to the chief executive.