Opposition councillors submit list of changes to West Northamptonshire budget ahead of meeting

Labour, Lib Dems and Independent councillors from WNC have all submitted amendments to the budget for 2024/25, which will be discussed at a full council meeting this week
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Councillors from the Labour Group, Liberal Democrats, and a group of Independents have all submitted amendments to the 2024/25 budget for West Northamptonshire Council.

The final budget will to go to full council this Thursday, February 22, to be voted on.

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The draft papers were approved by WNC’s cabinet last week, however opposition councillors have a list of proposals and changes they would like to make before giving the budget the green light.

The final budget meeting will be held at the Guildhall, Northampton, on Thursday February 22.The final budget meeting will be held at the Guildhall, Northampton, on Thursday February 22.
The final budget meeting will be held at the Guildhall, Northampton, on Thursday February 22.

Labour has presented a series of amendments which they say will be “innovative solutions” to “invest into the council”. They are concentrated on five key targets including:

  • ‘Housing Our Residents’ – by applying for £5 million of grant funding to run a pilot scheme of 15 ‘modular homes’ for social housing and temporary accommodation. Modular homes are pre-built homes made of many sections that are then transported and assembled on-site to form a house.
  • ‘Cleaning and Protecting Our Streets’ – by investing £270,000 to employ six more neighbourhood wardens to tackle environmental crime.
  • ‘Transporting Our Communities’ – by investing £345,587 over three years to design innovative new transport systems, focusing on rural areas and a hospital park and ride.
  • ‘Cleaning Our Air’ – by creating no-idling zones around schools and hospitals, conducting an awareness campaign and spending £12,000 on banners to encourage drivers to switch off engines. They have also suggested bidding for funding from the Department for Transport for installing smart junctions at key congestion areas in Northampton.
  • ‘Helping Our Children Play’ – by spending £5,000 on playground equipment and banners for a ‘Play Streets’ pilot. This encourages local communities to come together to create outdoor spaces for children to play out in safe traffic-free streets.

The total costs of the schemes, excluding government bids, would be £632,597 which the Labour Group has suggested financing from the general contingency budget. According to draft budget papers the level of contingency funding, which is used to cover any unforeseen demand or emergencies, is set at £10 million.

Councillor Wendy Randall, Leader of the Labour Group, said: “The Labour group have introduced these amendments in an effort to improve the lives of the residents of West Northamptonshire.

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“All of the schemes suggested will go some way to improve lives as well as bring communities together.”

A group of independent councillors at WNC have also come together to suggest some changes to next year’s budget. Councillor Ian McCord (Deanshanger), Councillor Sue Sharps (Brackley) and Councillor Paul Clark (Billing & Rectory Farm) have all asked for the council to allocate more funding for potholes and highway maintenance.

They found that the council’s funds for pothole repairs would be down by £1.9 million this year. The amendment would move £2 million from within the existing contingency budgets to the highways area. If approved this would reduce the contingency budget balance to £8 million.

Cllr Ian McCord said: “Anyone who drives a car, or walks on a pavement can see the poor state of the roads across the WNC area. Residents have this as a high priority area, we must not reduce the spending.

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“Drivers and pedestrians pay a lot and in return get an ever-deteriorating highways network in return. The amendment will maintain the funding at current levels with no cuts.”

Councillor Malcolm Longley, cabinet member for finance, said: “In 2023-24 we received an additional Pothole Fund Budget from the Government of £1.9 million which was announced as part of the Spring budget on March 15, 2023 – this was before the start of the financial year but after we had set our budget.

“There has been no similar Government announcement for 2024-25. The Government’s next budget is due to be held on March 6, 2024.”

Further amendments to the budget have been noted by the West Northants Liberal Democrats who have requested to use £785,000 across their seven core proposals.

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This includes allocating £300,000 from the dedicated schools grant for a pilot scheme of school counsellors to “reduce mental health pressures and prevent school children falling into the care system”. Another £50,000 of capital spending has been suggested to refresh signage for Brampton Valley Way, a walking and cycling route on the former railway line between Northampton and Market Harborough.

The Lib Dems have also asked to re-purpose a total of £360,500 of earmarked reserves to explore modular housing and to create a pilot partnership with the National Energy Foundation, allowing residents to get energy assessments on their homes. The biggest chunk of the earmarked spend would be an investment into the Local Area Partnerships (which cover communities to ensure health and care services are better co-ordinated) of £225,000

Their final requests involve appointing an extra member to the council’s sustainability team (£75,000 per year) and funding a study into into how West Northamptonshire might capitalise on the “booming film and TV production sector” (£50,000). Both these would be financed from a transfer from the contingency budget.

The council is set to discuss all of the above amendments and core budget proposals later this week.

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Cllr Longley added: “The council is always open to any good ideas for ensuring we deliver our budget in line with the needs of our residents and our priorities for improving and maintaining services across West Northants and each of these proposals will be considered on its own merits.”