Secret council cabinet meetings to fix £6million 'hole' in West Northamptonshire budget

'We thought we were in reasonably good shape... but that was last week,' admits finance chief

By Kevin Nicholls
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 1:51 pm

A public consultation into next year's council budget will continue while secret meetings are going on over fixing a £6million hole.

West Northamptonshire began asking for views last month after publishing its draft plans for 2022/23.

The council's finance portfolio holder, Cllr Malcolm Longley, added at the time that a 'windfall' grant from government left the Tory-run council around £3.8million over what it had budgeted for.

Cllr Malcolm Longley revealed West Northamptonshire Council faces demands for £6m spending than it budgeted for

But he told the Council's monthly Cabinet meeting held in Towcester on Tuesday (January 18) than various departments were now asking for £6million more than originally thought.

Cllr Longley added the matter will be discussed by the Cabinet privately.

He said: "We thought we were looking in reasonably good shape this year and we were delighted to have a £3.8million windfall that we didn't expect.

"But that was last week.

"This week — and this will be a subject for quite hot discussion at another cabinet meeting, but not a public one — we have pressures coming through from pretty much every department of in excess £6million.

"Whether it will end up being £6million, I suspect probably not and there will be lots of discussions about that.

"We're a new council and unknowns do happen. And they are happening."

A council spokesman confirmed the public consultation will continue until it closes on February 1 as planned and the final budget will be presented to a full council meeting on February 24.

West Northamptonshire Council was created as one of two unitary authorities in a local government shakeup ordered after the former Northamptonshire County Council declared itself bankrupt in 2017.

It also took over from three lower-tier authorities including Northampton Borough Council, which was heavily criticised over a loan to the town's football club in 2012, more than £10m of which has never been repaid.

The new budget pressures were cited as a reason for the council's Cabinet sticking with a £42-a-year fee for those who want garden waste collected despite calls for it to be reduced

Independent Cllr Ian McCord, who sits on the council's budget scrutiny committee, said: “When the budget was published, Cabinet congratulated themselves on the robust processes they had in place to get to achieve a balanced budget.

“All this information must now be placed in the public domain so we can see exactly where these costs are supposed to lie and not have secret behind-closed-doors meetings to sort it out.”

After Tuesday's meeting Cllr Longley said: “Budget setting and management is always a dynamic and ongoing process with regular corrections so we stay on course.

"We are set to finish our first year on or very close to the budget we set, and we expect to do the same again next year.

“We produce our draft budget just nine months into the financial year, leaving three months in which our financial situation can change.

“The budgetary pressures which have arisen since we announced the draft budget in December come as a result of changing national and local context, with higher inflation, greater demand on services and further consequences of Covid.

"We’re currently looking at ways in which we can lessen this impact and would expect to be able to present a balanced budget to Cabinet in February.”