COUNTY COUNCIL BUDGET: Crucial meeting could be a 'fire sale' warns Northampton parliamentary candidate

Protestors outside today's heated meeting at County Hall.
Protestors outside today's heated meeting at County Hall.

The delayed county council budget next week is going to be a "fire sale" due to the financial woes facing the authority, a Northampton parliamentary candidate has warned.

Conservatives in control of Northamptonshire County Council were also accused of "political fraud" for years of "financial mismanagement" during today's heated meeting on the authority's unlawful budget proposals.

Opposition members have warned next week's budget will be a "fire sale".

Opposition members have warned next week's budget will be a "fire sale".

The summit at County Hall should have seen the council set its budget for the 2018/19 financial year.

But on Tuesday, auditors KPMG advised council bosses to delay for a week as the measures they proposed to save some £30 million were classed as "unlawful".

The firm disputes whether the council can, lawfully, use money made from selling off buildings and land to fund its day-to-day running, due to complicated laws governing the way councils can spend income.

The authority has depleted all but around £11 million of reserves and intends to sell its new Angel Street headquarters - but it is not known how much of the proceeds can be used to balance the books.

Members of the GMB formed part of today's protest.

Members of the GMB formed part of today's protest.

It meant today's meeting only formed a debate around the KPMG warning, rather than the scheduled budget vote.

Labour's Northampton south parliamentary candidate Councillor Gareth Eales said the Conservatives had committed "political fraud" by failing to come up with a lawful budget.

He said: "We know you have been passing fantasy budgets around here for a number of years.

"It is going to be an absolute fire sale next week.

"There will be a ridiculous hike in council tax and we will lose essential services."

"The people you represent here have been victims of political fraud.

"If you had any sense of conscience, you would resign immediately."

Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall) said the council was entering "unprecedented territory".

The advanced notice from KPMG was, to his knowledge, the first of its kind issued by an auditor.

Labour group members went on to call for the council to scrap its current cabinet system in place of a cross-party committee.

Their group's former leader Councillor John McGhee said the state of the authority had gotten so bad, he would not stand for re-election next time around. He has served in Corby for 25 years.

On the issue of using capital receipts to fund the council's revenue stream - finance cabinet member Councillor Robin Brown, said he took responsibility.

He said: "I fully accept the responsibility for, in 2016, 17 and 18, using the in-year capital receipts to ensure that we balance the books and provide the services our directorates identified as needed."

But facing yet another barrage of calls to resign, council leader Councillor Heather Smith again insisted she would not be going.

"We have to accept the KPMG report and we have to accept that mistakes have been made in the past.

"I apologise for not challenging the officers enough, but we are where we are.

"There have been plenty of calls for me to resign and to walk away.

"Even though my feet are well and truly in the fire it is not time for me to resign and run away.

"I have to see this through."

The full council will now reconvene for a special meeting on Thursday, February 28 to set the final budget.