Lib Dems slam new West Northamptonshire Council’s budget as ‘same as before’

The new unitary council has revealed its first ever draft budget.The new unitary council has revealed its first ever draft budget.
The new unitary council has revealed its first ever draft budget.
Liberal Democrat councillors say the first ever budget for the new West Northamptonshire unitary council shows that services ‘will be the same as before’.

The unitary council will effectively merge the county council, and the district and borough councils in Northampton, Daventry and South Northamptonshire. It comes after a government appointed inspector recommended scrapping the county council for the unitary due to financial crisis it went through in 2018.

A proposed first budget, if passed, will see council tax increased by 4.99 per cent, comprising 1.99 per cent core tax and a three per cent adult social care precept. This is the maximum amount allowed without having to hold a referendum. It means an average Band D property will pay £1,566.39 from April 1, an increase of £74.45 for the year or £1.43 per week.

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But Liberal Democrat councillor Jonathan Harris, a ward member for Brixworth on the shadow unitary, said: “The headline council tax increase of 4.99 per cent is well above inflation, and hides the fact that many residents across West Northamptonshire will see actual rises well above this figure, yet services will be the same as before.

“There was a real opportunity to rethink how services are delivered and how savings could have been made to invest in improvements for residents and better support for low-income families.”

The impact of COVID – which has been estimated at £12.5 million for the first year – has placed higher demands on services. The authority says that this has ‘got in the way of some planned savings this year’.

Councillor David Tarbun, a councillor at South Northants and the unitary shadow, said: “The failure of Northamptonshire County Council to deliver its promised efficiencies in 2019/20 have reduced the scope to make lives better for people across West Northamptonshire next year.”

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And Councillor Sally Beardsworth, the leader of the Lib Dem group in Northampton, added: ’We know the COVID pandemic has meant a strain on services, but tighter management of the county council by the Tories could have reduced pressure on family budgets hit by reduced incomes.”

The budget includes a proposal, which is subject to consultation, for rent increases in 2021/22 of 1.5 per cent on average for council house tenants. The council does however pledge to deliver up to 200 new homes at a cost of £34.1 million financed from its capital programme.

The council says the budget ‘proposes no service reductions and will be taking full advantage of the efficiencies of running one organisation where previously there were four’.

Councillor Ian McCord, the Conservative leader of the West Northamptonshire shadow authority, said the new unitary was ‘a real opportunity to deliver a fresh start’.

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He said: “Uniting the local authorities in the west will bring many strengths and form a new organisation which is greater than the sum of its parts. While the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant challenges for us financially and operationally, an enormous amount of effort has gone into coping with this and the COVID-19 response remains our number one priority.”