An ‘alternative’ Labour budget has suggested the county council invests more than £120 million in businesses to avoid ‘dangerous’ Tory plans to cut services.
Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council was due to rubber stamp its budget for 2015/16 today (Thursday), which will impose £66 million of cutbacks in a range of services from adult social care to the fire service and libraries.
The authority will have to save £150 million over the next five years to balance its books due to drastic reductions in its government grant.
Today, the Conservative administration will propose meeting that target by outsourcing some services to mutual companies and strimming its workforce from 4,000 to around 150.
But yesterday the county’s Labour group offered its alternative vision for the next six years, in which its said it would actually invest £120 million in setting up a Business Growth Investment Fund.
Labour group leader, Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood) said: “Clearly if we were in power at Northamptonshire County Council, we would be in the same position as the Tories. They say they have no choice, but that is down to their own making.
“Their idea of outsourcing services is not acceptable. It is my belief that it will eventually lead to the privatisation of public services.”
Labour’s growth fund, Councillor McGhee said, would allow the council to buy or build offices or factories and lease them to medium and large-sized firms in order to tempt them to move to Northampton.
Councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall), Labour’s shadow cabinet member for finance, said this would generate around £28 million of revenue in rent and business rates.
He said: “The truth is we expect businesses to be beating a path to our door for this scheme.” While it could be seen as a high-risk strategy, Councillor McGhee said: “Any budget that comes out at this time has a high risk. We think this is nowhere near as risky as the Conservative budget.”
However Councillor Scrimshaw said he could not rule out the Labour group outsourcing some services if it were to gain power of the county council in 2016. He said: “It may be appropriate in some areas to use a third party to deliver the services, but that would need to be based on a proper business case.”
Prime Minister David Cameron dismissed fears the outsourcing of county council services in Northamptonshire would lead to a loss of accountability in public services.
The Tory leader said: “Accountability is delivered through having elected councillors running your council. You can reward them by re-electing them if they’re doing a good job or getting rid of them if they’re not. In terms of services, what matters is the quality of the services the patient or the parent gets, that’s what they should focus on.”
While the Conservative-led Coalition has greatly reduced the amount of funding councils receive, the Prime Minister said that pattern was set to continue, whichever party gained power.
He said: “All parties have accepted when it comes to local finance there aren’t going to be huge pots of money, so the real question is who is better at running your council, at finding efficiencies, combining with neighbouring authorities and making sure we reduce back-office costs so we have services we can rely on.”