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31.07.18

Efforts to stop Northamptonshire County Council spending were ignored three years ago

Efforts made by to warn Northamptonshire County Council leaders of its financial crisis were not acted upon by leaders three years ago, damning new information has found.

A Freedom of Information request by local democracy reporter at the Northampton Chronicle Sarah Ward found that then director of finance Matt Bowmer wrote to council chiefs on 29 October 2015 of his concerns towards the council’s spending; and notified them of his plans to issue a Section 114 notice, banning all authority spending immediately.

Recipients of Bowmer’s request — council leader Jim Harker, chief executive Dr Paul Blantern, and finance cabinet member Bill Parker — did not take the warning seriously, the Northampton Chronicle added.

In the letter, Bowmer noted that the authority had overspent by £43m seven months into the financial year — a spending pattern he described as “greatly alarming.”

He added: “We are experiencing a significant financial crisis but there is avoidance of the term and a lack of action appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in.

“At the heart of this is the corrosion of our financial management arrangements over the past 18 months; there has been a change of culture and behaviour where overspending is acceptable and there are no sanctions for failure.”

The shortcomings in Northamptonshire County Council’s leadership three years ago may have led to the authority’s cash-strapped finances currently. Last week it was found that Northamptonshire CC “misappropriated” £8m of ring-fenced funds to rescue other struggling services.

Northamptonshire also issued a second Section 114 notice last week. In February, it became the first council in 20 years to issue a major spending ban, citing “severe financial changes” leading to the ban. In May, government-appointed commissioners were sent in to improve operations at the struggling council, who are still attempting to balance the books and shore up a potential budget shortfall of up to £70m which led to the authority to issue the Section 114 notice.

PSE has approached Northamptonshire County Council for comment.

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Image credit: MarioGuti, iStock images

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