Biggest shake up of Northamptonshire County Council for 120 years takes first steps at cabinet meeting

Northamptonshire County Council is set to be split into a number of mutual organisations to save the authority money.
Northamptonshire County Council is set to be split into a number of mutual organisations to save the authority money.
  • County council approves first steps of a Wellbeing Community Interest Organisation
  • Labour fears the moves are the first stage in a step towards privatisation
  • Controlling Conservative group says this has never been the case

Moves to split Northamptonshire County Council into four ‘community interest companies’ took a step forward on Tuesday as the authority’s cabinet agreed to press forward with drawing up a business plan.

In February the county council approved the ‘Council Plan’ in which the authority will, over the next five years, begin outsourcing services to mutual companies and reducing its core workforce from 4,000 to 150.

There is a very deep suspicion that this is stage one and stage two means full privatisation.

Councillor Danielle Stone

The measures are being proposed as the council needs to save £150 million over the next five years.

On Tuesday its cabinet delegated power to its chief executive Paul Blantern to ‘make any relevant appointments’ to support the setting up of a new Wellbeing Community Interest Organisation and to enter into a consultation phase.

While it is not yet known exactly what services would come under its umbrella, it is understood ‘treatment services’, such as the council’s drug and alcohol support teams, and the councils libraries would become part of the new organisation from September.

The moves to outsource services to mutual organisations had previously been criticised by the opposition Labour group at the county council, who feared the splitting of the council marked a step towards privatisation.

Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phippsville) said yesterday: “There is a very deep suspicion that this is stage one and stage two means full privatisation.

“We will really need to build trust around that issue.”

The new look council will also comprise an ‘accountable care organisation, a ‘federation of social enterprises’ and a ‘place shaping partnership’ further down the line.

Those organisations, while part-funded by the council, would then be free to win other contracts to generate additional income, which would reduce their costs to the authority.

It is not yet known how staff will be transferred over to the new community interest companies.

Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) said the decision by the cabinet yesterday marked the first stage of ‘a long road’.

And Councillor Robin Brown (Con, Braunston) tried to mitigate any privatisation fears, stating that the council already outsources back office functions to a mutual organisation, LGSS, which has not been privatised.

“We could have taken that route, but we have stuck to our mantra,” he said. “Frankly our record is what people should be looking at.”