Northamptonshire County Council agrees to freeze funding on unitary delivery until increased cost estimates are scrutinised

The county council is alarmed by the new estimated costs, but wants to scrutinise the numbers further
The county council is alarmed by the new estimated costs, but wants to scrutinise the numbers further

Northamptonshire County Council has agreed to not spend any more money on delivering the proposed two new unitary authorities until it has scrutinised new figures which suggest the cost could rise by at least £14million.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service revealed yesterday that new estimates have seen the cost of delivering the two new councils rise from £30million to £44million.

County council leader Matt Golby said yesterday he was ‘alarmed’ at the increased costs, and today tabled a motion at full council calling on the council to freeze putting any new funds into the delivery programme.

The motion read: “Further information has been received regarding the proposed cost of delivering the unitary programme.

“Northamptonshire County Council has serious concerns about these figures and until there has been robust scrutiny of the figures, the county council resolves not to agree to any further expenditure on the unitary delivery programme as it may have serious implications on the deliverability of the 2019/20 budget.”

And councillors from all parties joined in with registering their concerns at the figures, which were produced by the new programme director overseeing the transition, Keith Cheesman.

Mr Cheesman’s figures, produced to council leaders and chief finance officers at a behind-closed-doors meeting last week, showed that redundancy costs had gone up from £5million to £8million.

The original costs were provided in a report by Pricewaterhousecooper into various different unitary models.

Councillors also expressed concerns over the timescales, with senior cabinet members joining opposition councillors in claiming that the whole process is being rushed.

Cabinet member Dr Andy Mercer added that he thought the costs could even be MORE than the revised £44million.

He says: "I don't believe that the figures include all the likely expenditure that's going to be incurred. It needs a thorough investigation.

“This is being done much quicker than other unitaries have been set up. Some of the scrutiny is being lost. When I look at these figures I get very uncomfortable."

Labour councillor Danielle Stone added: “I'm really disturbed at the lack of democracy around this whole process. The consultation was facile.

"We should ask for a pause on this process so that we can work on this and achieve some better outcomes."

Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Chris Stanbra said: “It's interesting that the person behind these figures [Keith Cheesman] is someone that not many of us have heard of, and we don't know what his remit is."

Mr Cheesman was recently appointed as the programme director for overseeing the transition by the councils, having recently done the same for several district councils in Dorset becoming a unitary.