Northampton

Northamptonshire County Council: Protesters 'mourn' cuts to services

Protesters outside Northamptonshire County Council
Image caption Scores of residents gathered outside Northamptonshire County Council headquarters to protest over proposed cuts

Angry residents gathered outside an emergency meeting of a cash-strapped local authority earlier to protest about proposed cuts to services.

Northamptonshire County Council, which must save £70m by March, met to discuss how to tackle the funding crisis.

Council leader Matthew Golby said councillors had to examine "what we can realistically provide" for residents.

The Conservative-led council has been forced to impose spending controls twice in six months.

It has vowed to protect children and vulnerable adults but a financial expert warned essential services may be "cut to the very bone".

One public speaker attending the meeting at County Hall on Wednesday evening, described the situation as a "shambles" and demanded Mr Golby resigned.

Protesters also stood for a minute's silence to "mourn" likely cuts to services.

Mr Golby acknowledged the council faced "a massive task" but said bosses would "do everything within our powers" to get the authority "back on track".

Image caption The authority has called an emergency meeting to discuss how to make £70m of savings by March 2019

Labour councillor John McGee said the proposals would leave the authority "on the brink of providing illegal services to the vulnerable people of Northamptonshire".

Meanwhile, Tory councillor Rob Gough called on his colleagues to "make sure we make the cuts that need to be made".

He said: "Throwing money at the problem like we have in the past is not going to solve the issue.

"We cannot balance the books by fleecing the taxpayer. Why should they suffer for the folly of the state?"

Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw said the authority had been placed "at the vanguard of the austerity project", claiming funding cuts were "an excuse by some to reduce the powers and size of local government".

"There's not a cat in hell's chance that this year's budget will actually balance," he added.

"We need to send a clear and strong message to the government - we cannot manage because of stupid local decisions."

Labour's Winston Strachan described the council's situation as "an absolute disaster".

He said: "I have been a councillor since 2001 and for the first time yesterday, I had to say to someone who asked for help: 'I am sorry, we have no money'."

'Cuts are criminal'

Of the 57 county councillors, only 43 attended the meeting that has now ended.

Many of the protesters displayed banners outside simply saying "No more cuts", while others urged the government to "bail out" the council.

Teacher Pat Markey said: "The cuts we have faced over the last few years and the cuts that are about to happen are criminal."

Louise Stubbs chairs a campaign group that is fighting to save Brackley library in the county.

She said: "Our library service is the most efficient in the entire country... that is why we have had to fight so hard to try and save them."

Image caption Northamptonshire County Council has been forced to sell its £53m HQ, which it moved in to in October

Mr Golby has proposed services be reduced to a "core offer" and said the authority had to decide what it could "realistically provide".

He said the authority would "safeguard all children and young people" while ensuring a "robust safeguarding system to protect vulnerable adults".

The "core offer" would also see the authority carry out "sufficient maintenance" of public highways and plan for school places, he added.

A council source told the BBC the scale of possible cuts was "huge... completely unprecedented".

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A section 114 notice issued last week, severely curtailing spending at the council, follows the issuing of the same notice in February.

Prior to this, there had been only two issued in the UK since 1988.

Brian Roberts, one of two government-appointed commissioners overseeing the council, said the authority's finances were in a "truly perilous state".

Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy chief executive Rob Whiteman warned services could be "cut to the bone".

Image caption The council has said a "robust" system would be retained to safeguard children and vulnerable adults

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