West Northamptonshire Council shrinks £7.6m overspend by one-third in two months – but how did they do it?

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Cabinet finance member says it’s down to “holding vacant posts, delivering services more efficiently and maximising income opportunities… to name a few”

Councillors are giving little detail on how they shrunk a £7.6 million black hole in West Northamptonshire’s budget by one-third in just two months.

Clouncillor Malcolm Longley, cabinet member for finance on the Tory-run authority, told a full council meeting earlier this month: “We’ve made progress” after revealing the council’s new projected overspend for 2022-23 is down to £4.9 million from the previous number revealed in September.

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In a statement issued to this newspaper, Cllr Longley said a number of “budget mitigations” had been made to address the financial position. He added that these consisted of “holding vacant posts, seeking ways to deliver services in a more efficient manner and maximising income opportunities… to name a few.”

West Northamptonshire Council says it is "making progress" tackling a projected £7.6 million black hole in this year's budgetWest Northamptonshire Council says it is "making progress" tackling a projected £7.6 million black hole in this year's budget
West Northamptonshire Council says it is "making progress" tackling a projected £7.6 million black hole in this year's budget

There were no details of how many vacancies have not been filled at the council nor what efficiencies have been found in the last two months and referred to a report which anyone “can dial into” but has yet to be published.

Cllr Longley told the the council meeting on November 3: “I was reporting a £7.6 million overspend, potentially. Period five has improved to £5.6 million and period six is about to be published now talking about £4.9 million.

“So that means we've made progress on a month-by-month basis but there’s still a way to go because that's only a half-year.”

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Cllr Longley also addressed reports the council faces a £15 million overspend in 2023-24, saying next year’s budget could be “a bit tricky”.

West Northamptonshire Council revealed earlier this year it was taking “precautionary measures” after spiralling inflation sent costs soaring, gobbling up a £10 million contingency set aside in this year’s budget.

September’s quarterly report predicted a £7.6 million overspend above the contingency and officers warned: “We may not have seen the worst of the financial pressures yet.”

Public service sector union UNISON has warned waste collections, leisure centres, nurseries and other vital services will all be hit as councils tackle massive deficits when councillors decide budgets for 2023-24.

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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement gave local authorities the green light to increase its share of council tax bills next year by up to five percent without needing a referendum.

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Labour councillors' fury as Chancellor Jeremy Hunt hikes council tax hitting tho...

Council tax can currently go up by 2.99 percent a year — 1.99 percent on the general charge and another one percent to cover social care. The Chancellor glossed over the change in his Commons speech promising only “greater flexibility” for authorities, but the full budget text published later confirmed maximum general increases of three percent plus two percent on the social care precept from April 2023.

That would add around £50 a year to average bills for band D properties in Northampton before taking into account precepts from parish and town councils and the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner.

A three-year plan to harmonise council tax with the old Northampton Borough and South Northamptonshire areas means bills in Daventry will rise by more while South Northants will see a smaller increase because charges there are higher — but residents will also have to pay an extra £42 a year if they want to continue garden waste collections under the council’s new subscription scheme.