Northamptonshire councillors 'appalled' by finances

Heather Smith
Image caption Conservative Heather Smith said she will be remaining as leader of Northamptonshire County Council

Backbench councillors at a local authority which has banned all new spending have backed calls for it to be run by government commissioners.

A statement signed by 21 councillors at Northamptonshire County Council says they are "appalled" at revelations regarding the council's finances.

The Conservative-run authority has brought in a measure to prevent new expenditure.

Leader Heather Smith said it is not the right time for a change in leadership.

She said the councillors concerns are "understandable," but added that she has been "given the support of the Cabinet and others within our Conservative Group".

In the so-called section 114 notice, chief financial officer Mark McLaughlin said the council faced a serious financial situation.

He projected a £21.1m overspend for 2017-18 and warned the situation for the following year was "grave".

Image copyright Google
Image caption The government ordered a review into the county council's finances last month

In their statement, the councillors said "the true state" of the county council's financial problems were "hidden from us".

They said the performance of the authority "falls way short of the standards we and the public expect".

They backed a call by Northamptonshire's seven MPs for government commissioners to take over the running of the council.

In a statement issued late on Sunday, the MPs said they had lost confidence in the authority's leadership.

The MPs added backbench county councillors were capable of driving the council forward "if only they were given the opportunity to do so" but were "undermined" by Cabinet members when they attempted to scrutinise decisions.

The councillors' statement said they shared the MPs frustrations that "certain Cabinet members have failed to provide sufficient clarity and openness".

Image caption Northamptonshire County Council is currently consulting on cuts to library services, bus subsidies and to Trading Standards

The council announced in December it was looking to make savings of £34.3m as part of the 2018/19 budget.

That and a council tax increase of 5.98% will be discussed by the council's cabinet on 13 February.

Revisions to the planned budget, announced on Monday, included a stay of execution for under-threat library services.

The council will continue to provide financial support to libraries for another "transition year" before community-managed libraries are established in April next year.

The county council has predicted it will have had to make savings of half a billion pounds by 2021 if it does not get more money from central government.

The 21 councillors who have signed the letter constitute half the Conservative group on the county council.

In all there are 56 councillors on the authority: 42 Conservatives, 12 from Labour and two Liberal Democrats.

Ms Smith said it is "the most important time" of the financial year, adding: "The consequences of not setting and approving a Budget during the month of February would be severe."

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