Northamptonshire County Council set for £17.5 million overspend and possible raid on reserves

The budget press conference at The County Hall in February saw the authority reveal the extent of huge cuts to its services from central government. However plans to slash �68 million from its budget this year alone are likely to fall well short of the mark.
The budget press conference at The County Hall in February saw the authority reveal the extent of huge cuts to its services from central government. However plans to slash �68 million from its budget this year alone are likely to fall well short of the mark.

A bid to slash £68 million from Northamptonshire County council’s budget this year could fall more than £36 million short according to latest figures, prompting fears the authority is in financial crisis.

A report due to go to the council’s cabinet meeting today shows the authority will only be able to make £32 million of cuts in the 2015/16 year.

Projections show it will have overspent on its target budget by £17.5 million by April, even if it takes more than £19 million out of a pot of reserves in order to plug the budget hole.

The Conservative led county council said an unforeseen increase in demand on adult social services and children’s services have put a huge strain on resources.

But, with the council set to see the funding it receives from central government cut by £148 million over the next five years, opposition councillors fear the authority is in a desperate situation.

Councillor Michael Brown (UKIP, Kingsthorpe) said: “I don’t care what other people say, this is a crisis.

“Our back is up against the wall here - we have no money.”

And he added: “Ultimately we could end up turning the street lights off.”

Councillor Brown said the authority needs to consider removing councillor’s fuel allowances, axing members’ empowerment funds, cut needless colour printing and consider shutting a number of council operated buildings early, before its new Angel Street headquarters are built.

Though he added that Northamptonshire needs to consider splitting into unitary authorities to make the kind of savings needed.

In February county council leaders announced they would begin splitting its main services into four mutual organisations in a bid to save money, retaining a core staff of around 200 people while allowing the mutual companies to bid for other contracts and generate revenue.

But shadow cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall) has previously described this approach as “blinkered” and says the projected £17.5 million overspend suggests the Conservative policies to reduce spending are not working.

He said: “We are now six months through the year and it is clear this authority has a blinkered approach towards its financial position.

“We were telling them six months ago they would have problems.”

Councillor Scrimshaw proposed an alternative budget in April, suggesting the council should borrow money and invest £120 million in businesses to generate revenue for the council.

Cllr Bill Parker, county council cabinet member for finance, performance and LGSS, said: “It is no secret that this council – and indeed all county councils – are facing significant reductions in government funding at a time where demand for our services are rocketing.

“This year is no different and this report shows our progress towards finding a further £68m worth of savings – on top of the £185m we have saved over the last five years.

“We have always outlined just how challenging this will be and this report shows that we still need to keep working to reduce further spend.

“For example, our Fit for the Future programme will continue to improve outcomes for people receiving adult social care services while delivering financial savings, and we are continuing our work around the recruitment and retention of children’s social workers to reduce reliance on costly agency staff.”