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01.08.18

Northamptonshire sets up dedicated crisis team as council floats bare-bones ‘Core Offer’

The troubled and technically insolvent Northamptonshire County Council has revealed that it will set up a dedicated team to deal with its financial crisis as the authority’s members prepare to hold an extraordinary budget meeting today.

In a statement, leader Cllr Matt Golby explained that a team of professionals would come together to lead on its budget management work, with priorities set to be discussed and agreed on over the next two weeks – first tonight, and then at a Cabinet meeting on 14 August. These will then be used to assess all spend across council services and pinpoint where savings can be made.

The local authority, which technically went bankrupt earlier this year after emptying its cash reserves to mitigate unprecedented levels of overspend, has been on the news consistently over the past few weeks as councillors and government commissioners try to come to terms with the bleak economic situation in front of them.

Golby said: “In many ways we are now at the starting point of the very long journey of realigning our budget.

Last week’s section 114 notice is the first time where there is complete clarity shared by us, the government and the external expertise at CIPFA of the scale of the challenge we face. This was critical if we were to ever have a chance of rising to this challenge.”

A large piece of this work will be to review all of the council’s outsourced services – around 70% of the budget currently goes to contracts with third-party suppliers – against new priorities, all on a contract-by-contract basis.

“We will be open and fully transparent with the results of this work which will include painful but necessary decisions,” the leader added.

In a discussion paper released ahead of tonight’s meeting, Golby laid bare the harsh financial situation ahead: the council will need to find in-year savings of at least £60m by next March, a position which may need to be further readjusted pending external elements.

The paper sets out the council’s core offer – the services it is legally obliged to deliver, and which will be funded “according to the agreed hierarchy of priorities.” Golby admitted this represents the “best service offer we are likely to be able to afford.”

“The core offer will be developed and costed. Each activity will be prioritised against the hierarchy agreed by the Executive,” the paper explained.

“This will form the basis of our ongoing work with the commissioners and discussions with residents, businesses and partners about what we can realistically provide and how we can help to create resilience in places where the council can no longer step in.”

Northamptonshire’s situation has undoubtedly been bleak, with government commissioner Brian Roberts agreeing that the finances are in a “truly perilous state” and sources telling national press that the scale of potential cuts ahead is “completely unprecedented.”

But Professor Tony Travers, a local government expert at the London School of Economics, told the BBC that around 15 to 20 councils are currently at risk of ending up in a similar position – Northamptonshire is just the one that “has got nearest to the precipice” so far.

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