Are county council commissioners value for money?

Lead commissioner Tony McArdle.
Lead commissioner Tony McArdle.

Whether taxpayers are getting value for money from the commissioners sent in to rescue Northamptonshire County Council has been questioned.

Chief commissioner Tony McArdle and experienced finance commissioner Brian Roberts have been steering the county council ship since the authority was deemed unfit for purpose by a Government inspector earlier this year.

The pair, now joined by new chief executive Theresa Grant, have called in review teams to dissect the finances of the county council and have put together a ‘stabilisation plan’ outlining savings which they hope will ensure the authority balances its budget at the end of financial year in April.

But their £1,500 a day wage packet has been questioned by Northampton Labour councillor Danielle Stone who at yesterday’s (nov 13) cabinet meeting challenged the £457,000 being spent on their expertise.

And the bill, which will have to be paid by Northants residents rather than the Government, may rise even further as yesterday Secretary of State James Brokenshire announced that he is ‘minded’ to send in a third commissioner to oversee the authority's children’s services.
Cllr Stone, who represents the Castle ward in Northampton, said: “The commissioners have been in for seven months. I would ask if we are getting value for money and if we are, have we got the evidence for that?”

The councillor also questioned the £167,000 spending by the commissioners on reviews by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy into the authority’s finances and also the finances of shared service LGSS.

At the meeting cabinet member for finance Malcolm Longley would only say he was ‘encouraged’ by the stabilisation plan and would not give any further commitment that it would succeed.

He told opposition councillors: “if we are successful in balancing the books and moving to unitary then please make a judgement at that time. We are still in the early stages. It is a difficult time and there is a long way to go.”

The council is the poorest in the country, with no money in reserves and facing a mammoth financial challenge. It has to save £35m this year as well as find £18m of further savings identified this summer. The £35m overspend for last year has also not been dealt with yet.