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07.02.18

Northamptonshire tables unitary plans to combat ‘bleak financial position’

Transforming into a unitary authority could be the last option left to the debt-ridden Northamptonshire County Council.

Councillors suggested that only “significant local government reorganisation” could save the authority from a £78m funding gap set to develop between 2019-20 and 2021-22.

The news comes after Northamptonshire became the first council in nearly 20 years to issue a section 114 spending ban earlier this week, prohibiting almost all new expenditure.

In a report on the authority’s status, director of finance Mark McLaughlin said that Northamptonshire might have to sell its headquarters, in a deal which would see the council lease the property back.

Explaining the options, McLaughlin said: “Although the council constantly seeks value for money in all of its business decision making and transformation agenda, only significant local government re-organisation, moving to a unitary status, would provide the opportunity to reduce its costs significantly over the coming years.”

Pressure on adult social care services, as well as increasing costs across other services, have heavily contributed to the overspend. Although McLaughlin also pointed to £8m of recent asset sales, which he claimed were poorly timed.

Following a number of years of cuts, the council has few choices left to reduce expenditure and has been forced to issue the spending ban because of a lack of other options.

McLaughlin explained: “As each year passes, the cumulative nature of the council’s significant savings programme means that it has been increasingly difficult to identify areas of the council that can be delivered more efficiently; and, as such, the 2018-19 budget proposals predominantly focus on service reduction on the limited amount of discretionary services still provided, and asset sales utilised through the Governments Flexible Use of Capital Receipts policy.”

The County Council’s Network (CCN) said Northamptonshire’s troubles are indicative of much greater pressure on county authorities.

Paul Carter, CCN chairman, said: “County authorities face the deepest reductions in funding and demand-led pressures in adult social care. This is placing immense strain on local budgets after years of financial restraint.”

Top image: yevtony

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