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21.03.19

Commissioners report that Northamptonshire’s finances have ‘improved considerably’ but still risk ahead

The two government-appointed commissioners have reported that Northamptonshire County Council’s financial position has “improved considerably” and its budget plans for next year are “robust and realistic.”

The financially-troubled council has twice issued spending bans and at one point faced a budget deficit of over £70m – but the latest budget monitoring information from the Improvement Board predicts a possible deficit of around £1m.

Commissioners were sent in by the government in May last year to assist the authority in balancing its books and in their latest report they said “there is a good prospect that a balanced outturn position will be achieved which will be a significant achievement.”

Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts said in a letter to the government that the budgets for children’s services and adult social care can now be brought under control, although they had seen a “lack of maturity” in relationships at the council.

The newly-published report said: “In overall terms the board was encouraged that the county council's financial position has improved significantly and that its budget and plans for 2019/20 appear to be robust and realistic.”

The report acknowledged that the position had improved significantly, following the announcement that up to £70m in capital receipts were to be made available, effectively bailing the council out.

The Conservative-run council is also due to be scrapped in 2020 in favour of two new unitary authorities bringing together seven borough and district councils.

The authority did say it was hopeful that decisions about the reorganisation and its timing will be made as soon as possible to “provide clarity and a sense of certainty for staff in relation to their futures.”

The board said it acknowledged the sheer scale of the programme required and was “sceptical” about the amber risk rating currently given to more than 60 of the council’s programmes.

It said that managing the “significant risk, tensions and competing demands” of two parallel programmes to both deliver the reorganisation and continue to drive the county council’s recovery would be vitally important.

Northamptonshire CC twice had to issue Section 114 spending bans last year after overspending its budget by millions – but the commissioner’s report marks significant progress from the “dysfunction” in finances found in previous reports.

The next meeting of the Improvement Board will take place on 9 May.

Image credit - Joe Giddens/PA Archive/PA Images

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