Despite claims Northamptonshire County Council would be “bankrupt” if it were a private business, its finance chief has hit back by saying “we will make the books balance” this year.
Yesterday it was revealed the county council was on course to make just £32 million out of the proposed £68 million cuts it vowed to make in the 2015/16 year - even if it raids more than £19 million of reserves.
But despite coming under fire from opposition members at a heated cabinet meeting yesterday, Councillor Bill Parker (Con, Clover Hill) said the authority would finish the final year in April on balance.
He said: “We have significant savings to make over the next few months but I have every confidence we are going to find them and balance the budget as usual.”
Councillor Parker added that “tremendous” growth in the number of people using adult social care and the cost of providing it - in what he referred to at one point as the “graph of doom” - have had the biggest impact on the council’s expenditure.
He said the authority had also seen an “unprecedented” increase in the number of looked-after children under its care and is helping support an 80 percent increase in asylum seekers since 2013. The government only provides financial assistance for one year after an asylum seeker’s arrival.
Cabinet member for vulnerable children, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle), said the council’s children’s service, rated as inadequate by Ofsted in 2013, is still using a high quantity of agency staff, which she claimed was heaping on the extra cost.
However, she said she was confident outside funding could be found to help the council out of the mire.
With the authority set to see its government grant funding axed by £148 million over the next five years, shadow cabinet member for finance, Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall) was less than convinced the council would be able to balance its books in the 2015/16 and was also worried about the longer-term state of the council coffers.
“If we were a private business we would be on the verge of bankruptcy,” he said.
“The council needs to think again and that is a point the Labour group has been making for two years.
“Half way through the year you are exactly where we said you would be.”
Councillor Michael Brown (UKIP, Kingsthorpe North) added: “If you are not going to do something drastic then other draconian measures are going to have to be put in place to avoid the biggest financial crisis in this council’s existence.”
Councillor Jill Hope (Lib Dem, Sixfields) said the council was paying the price for repeated refusals to raise council tax.
“If you had done minor increases each year we would have filled this hole,” she said