‘I’ve learned from mistakes’ says Northants County Council’s new finance chief involved in bust firm 12 years ago

Councillor Robin Brown launching the 'C Word' campaing last year, for young perople whose lives have been affected by cancer. This week he has started in his new role as cabinet member for finance.
Councillor Robin Brown launching the 'C Word' campaing last year, for young perople whose lives have been affected by cancer. This week he has started in his new role as cabinet member for finance.
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The new man in charge of Northamptonshire County Council’s £1 billion a year budget says he is the right man for the job despite his role in an insolvent company a decade ago.

Councillor Robin Brown was revealed as the successor to Councillor Bill Parker as cabinet member for finance at the cash-strapped authority last week.

His role will mean he will have to oversee £64 million of cuts this year alone.

But the former businessman who tasted both success in the shoe industry - and failure when a string of gyms he was involved with collapsed in 2004 - says he is the right man to control the council’s finances.

His role in the bust gym firm, Northern Fitness Contracts, which he said he only played a part-time role in, led to calls for him to resign from his cabinet post for customers and commercial activity in 2006.

He has since held a number of posts on the frontbench of the council, though this will be his first role in the finance chair.

Councillor Brown said: “By having experienced failure that is sometimes even better to help you understand than just success - you learn from your mistakes.

“The part I played in a business I didn’t take sufficiently enough control over is perhaps down to being too trusting at the time.

“Maybe I am not as trusting now as I was then.”

Councillor Brown will almost certainly have to make further cut backs in his new role as Government funding to local councils is set to continue to drop across the UK.

But he believes his past experiences and the “next generation” plans to turn the county council into a smaller, commissioning based organisation, will be key to managing council finances.

“If I wasn’t saying I was the right man for the job there would be a problem,” he said.

“I feel I have the experience to carry out the role in a way my colleagues have confidence in.”

He added that he saw his new role as “simple in many ways”.

“Some very simple house keeping rules you would keep at home also need to apply to finance,” he said.

If you have a level of income, you have to deliver services that match that income.”

This year the county council has been the subject of street protests and campaigns over the £24 million cuts to adult social care.

Over the past months Councillor Brown’s predecessor came under scrutiny for not having raised council tax by small amounts over the course of a decade, which critics said would have removed the need to strim back services. Councillor Parker was also criticised for not negotiating better grant deals with Tory colleagues in central government.

But the new man in the chair, who makes no bones about his position to the centre right of the political spectrum, says he too would look at taxing low.

“I think it should be maintained at no higher than inflation,” he said.

“Personally I believe in low taxes and low state intervention.”