Plans by Northamptonshire County Council to cut £77 million off budget are ‘unrealistic’, claims opposition

Councillor  John McGhee has slammed proposed �77 million budget cuts to the county council as "unrealistic."
Councillor John McGhee has slammed proposed �77 million budget cuts to the county council as "unrealistic."

“Misleading and unrealistic” plans to save £77 million from Northamptonshire County Council’s budget next year will never be realised, Labour’s opposition leader has claimed.

Yesterday the Conservative-led authority announced a string of proposals to cut funding to children’s centres, bus subsidies, emergency planning, the fire and rescue service and announced plans to raise council tax by nearly four per cent in 2016/17.

The moves could put 343 jobs at risk and could see the council get rid of its Nourish school meals service.

The proposals are only in the draft stage currently and are now subject to a consultation until January 19.

But opposition members have rounded on the plans, questioning whether such huge cuts can be achieved in one year.

Leader of the Labour opposition, Councillor John McGhee (Lab, Kingswood) said: “To me these cuts are ideologically driven, they are about shrinking local services.

“The suggested cuts like the one to school meals will affect our children.

“There don’t need to be any further cuts to the Meals on Wheels service. This will isolate vulnerable residents and the cuts to the bus subsidy are a huge issue too.

“It is a pie in the sky number which hasn’t been worked out. It’s misleading and unrealistic.”

Councillor McGhee described some of the cuts as being too vague and questioned whether they could be delivered.

One saving suggests £4 million can be cut from the budget by moving to a “combined authority”.

However attempts to collaborate waste collection, recycling and disposal services with Northamptonshire’s seven district and county councils proved fruitless in the 2015/16 budget.

Currently district and borough councils collect the waste and collect fly-tipping, but then the county council runs landfill sites and recycling centres.

It is understood the county council has had interest from waste contractors to provide an all-in-one service that both collects and disposes of household waste, but district and borough leaders are yet to be convinced.

Labour’s shadow cabinet member for finance Mick Scrimshaw (Lab, Northall) believes the council has set itself an impossible task of saving £77 million, when its attempts to save £68 million this year are predicted to fall well short, even if several million is taken from its reserve funds.

He said: “Last year the council tried to save £35 million and failed, this year they are trying to save £68 million and they are failing.

“They are failing this year by £9 million even if they raid the reserves and next year they are telling us they will save £77 million next year.”

Councillor Scrimshaw said the Conservative-run council is paying the price for not acting sooner in creating more revenue generating streams or raising council tax in previous years.

He added: “I think there are two distinct strands to this. Clearly there have been cuts from the central government grant.

“But without question this administration have been reactive rather than proactive.

“For the last couple of years we (the Labour group) have been trying to get them to look at ways of making extra revenue, but they have really just been waiting for the government to hand money down.”

He also said many of the savings announced yesterday are too risky.

In particular, the move to save £9 million by moving children’s services to a mutual organisation by next September, might not be possible if Ofsted grades the council’s current in-house children’s service inadequate again at the next inspection.

“It’s all risky,” he said, “There’s four million in there they are hoping to save by working closer with district and borough councils, but attempts to do that failed last year, who’s to say it will work again this year?”

Councillor Michael Brown of UKIP said as some the budget proposals in the 2015/16 budget have appeared again in the 2016/17 budget, he said the Conservative group has “snowballed” proposed cuts into 2016/17.

“They are somehow hoping a sunny day will come along and met the snow,” he said.