Auditors have issued a damning account of Northamptonshire County Council’s ability to manage its budget shortly after the Tory-run authority announced it might not achieve £34.9 million of savings.
In its yearly external audit report of the authority that was published this week, KPMG has delivered a stinging criticism of the council’s financial management.
The authority ratified plans to cut its budget by £65 million in March. But in July it was revealed £34.9 million of the £65 million savings planned for 2016/17 were rated as “amber” or “red” in a report, meaning they may not be delivered.
Furthermore, the authority has reported it may need to make further savings of £13.6 million.
Lead auditor Andrew Cardoza said the county council has failed to put in place “proper arrangements to ensure it took properly-informed decisions” and deployed resources to achieve “sustainable outcomes for taxpayers and local people.”
At the council’s audit committee yesterday, Mr Cardoza stated he would be issuing a formal “adverse value-for-money opinion” on the council.
He also told the meeting that he audits 28 councils and in only three cases has he been forced to issue this stark warning.
Opposition groups have levelled further criticism at the Conservative group’s ability to manage the budget.
Lib Dem Councillor, Chris Lofts, said: “Northamptonshire County Council’s approach to budget setting and financial management has been officially called into question by the external auditor.”
“For years the Conservatives have based their plans on whims rather than sound analysis. The auditor has found them out and has said things must improve otherwise central Government could be forced to step in.”
Lib Dem leader, Councillor, Brendan Glynane added: “The people of Northamptonshire are facing real cuts to frontline services because the Tory administration has failed to manage the money properly.
“By issuing this ‘red card’ the auditor is saying enough is enough.”
Councillor Michael Brown, (UKIP, Kingsthorpe North) said, “I have said in my responses to the last three Tory budgets that they are financially incompetent and now at last KPMG agrees with UKIP.
“I said in my last budget speech: ‘you have failed this county, just as Gordon Brown failed the country. You are out of ideas, out of credibility and out of money.”
“The only answer to this crisis is to adopt the UKIP policy of a unitary council. Unfortunately the Tories seem to be dragging their feet on that.”
Cabinet member for finance, Councillor Robin Brown said: “We have been very open and transparent about the financial situation this authority and indeed the wider sector is in. A critical part of facing up to these challenges is to have such external auditors help identify areas of strength and areas where we can make further improvements.
“We are pleased that this report fully recognises the measures we have already put in place to respond to the issues it has highlighted with regard to financial management, including new service and budgetary planning procedures to better track savings targets.
“Indeed we are already clearly seeing the benefits of these more rigorous controls. This year we have been better able to identify early risks to savings targets and therefore take mitigating actions more swiftly.”