Councillor fears more legal challenges could be on the way for Northants County Council

The new county council offices in Northampton
The new county council offices in Northampton

A Northamptonshire county councillor says more legal challenges may be on the way following next week’s meeting to decide where the axe will fall on services.

The meeting at County Hall in Northampton on Wednesday (August 1) is set to be one of the most important in the council’s history as councillors from all political parties will be tasked with voting on what the key priorities are for the authority before it begins another swathe of service cuts in a bid to shave up to £70 million from its spending this year.

It is thought that any services that the council is not required to carry out by law will be reduced or go altogether.

Compulsory redundancies for staff could also be adopted.

Labour councillor John McGhee, who represents the Kingswood ward in Corby and has been a councillor for more than 20 years, said: “Things have been bad for a few years and now they are going to become horrendous.

“There will be some strong debate and I think it is dreadful that the many will have to pay for the mistakes of the few.

“I have been asking for the past 20 years what the statutory duties are for the council to provide and not one of the chief executives we have had over those years has been able to tell me.

“I am not even sure that central government knows what that is.

“If there are legal challenges after next week, that would not surprise me.”

The authority is already facing a legal challenge about its plans to close 21 of its libraries, with the first day of a judicial review being heard at Birmingham High Court tomorrow (Thursday).

Leader of the council Cllr Matt Golby said councillors would have to make some hard choices about what the most important services are.  

The leader, who yesterday brushed off calls for his resignation, said: “At the meeting we will define what our priorities as a council are.

“We will decide our core priorities and then set them for the next phase.

“We have got to have a debate and establish a hierarchy of priorities to help us make decisions when we are looking at spending areas.”

The council is in a seriously perilous position and yesterday its chief finance officer issued another 114 notice, which is a warning that the authority may not balance its books.

The figure the council needs to save this year also doubled from £35 million to £70 million.

In a series of media interviews yesterday chief commissioner Tony McArdle gave his first indication of his findings and the way forward for the county.

He said that previously there had not been measures in place to make sure budgets were kept to, but that it was still possible for the council to balance its budget and it had to simply live within its means.

The commissioner, along with his finance commissioner Brian Roberts told all councillors in a recent meeting that they would be guided in the service reductions based on a list of priorities decided on by members.

Conservative councillor Robert Gough, who represents Earls Barton, said he was still formulating what his key priorities were and would be listening to the views of his constituents.

He said: “The most important thing is that we balance the budget.

“As councillors it is good to know that we are still in a position of influence and that the commissioners will listen to what ourselves and the cabinet say.”