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04.12.18

Northamptonshire ‘changing its approach’ to protect frontline services as council sets out 2019-20 budget

Offloading libraries and a 2.99% tax increase have been announced as the part of Northamptonshire County Council’s draft budget, but frontline services will remain largely protected in a £43m savings scheme.

The county council has announced it is “changing its approach” as it set out its draft budget proposals for 2019-20.

As part of the plan, 17 libraries will be offloaded on to the community in a bid to keep them open, with the council continuing to manage 14 and support five of the region’s libraries.

Many services will be brought back in-house, which has been welcomed by the Labour opposition.

The financially broke council, which has twice issued section 114 spending bans, has pledged to make savings of £42.9m in 2019-20.

Commissioners were appointed by the government and sent to Northamptonshire in May to help with this process of balancing the books.

Council leader Matt Golby stressed that there would be no major effects on frontline services, and stated: “If this approach had been taken three or four years ago we would not be in this place.”

The budget papers published by the council set out a spending plan which include a wide range of small measures such as improved contract management, contract rationalisation, better use of office space, and the reorganisation of staff teams.

A second round of voluntary redundancies will get underway this month, and the council will raise council tax by 2.99%

Last week, Northamptonshire was effectively bailed out by the government as it allowed the council to use £70m of capital funding, gained from the sale of its HQ, to tackle what was at one point a £70m budget deficit.

This was also accompanied by the first progress report from the commissioners as they set out their plans to begin rebuilding the “dysfunctional” council’s finances.

They revealed an “unprecedented” £35m unfunded deficit carried over to this financial year from 2017-18 on top of the £30m 2018-19 overspend, and a huge decline in children’s services was also identified.

Plans to sell the council’s County Hall have also now been put on hold.

Golby said: “To put a budget forward today with no big effect on frontline services means we probably do have enough money to deal with our issues and the external criticism was that it was how Northamptonshire managed it.

“That has been quite hard for me to comprehend on one level but we can see it in this budget.”

Labour finance spokesperson Mick Scrimshaw welcomed the budget, but said “the devil would be in the detail.”

“I'm pleased that the council now seem willing to bring services back in-house, which is clearly something we've consistently called for and is a clear acknowledgement that the previous ambitions were a mistake.”

Top image: Joe Giddens via PA Wire

 

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