Northamptonshire County Council will not be in a position to deliver a balanced budget by the end of this financial year and has imposed immediate spending controls, meaning no new expenditure is permitted, with the exception of safeguarding vulnerable people and statutory services. The current situation at Angel Square is that the council has run out of money; whilst it may seem without precedent, it also feels somehow inevitable.
During last year’s County Council elections, the Green Party in Northamptonshire highlighted the ongoing budgetary issues with the County Council and said that the current administration was just papering over the cracks. The Green Party is not surprised that our county council has failed; their budgetary forecasting simply isn’t fit for purpose, so why should we trust their budget proposals this time? Green Party candidate, Simon Turner, who is standing in Higham Ferrers for the County Council, said:
“Although the current deficit is largely being caused by cuts in funding on a national level, the current situation has been made worse by disastrous decisions made by the Conservative administration. Years of council tax freezes have delivered no benefits to the citizens of Northamptonshire, and the drastic cuts over the last seven years represent a clueless council that can’t balance its books.”
Political parties of all persuasion have had their say over the past few days, and whilst the Northamptonshire Green Party agrees that the current situation is untenable, we don’t think that handing control over to the national government would be a desirable solution. Whilst the County Council may have mishandled the budget, they were dealing with cuts voted for by all of Northamptonshire’s MPs in Parliament. It’s a problem of Conservative governance, whether that be local or national. Simon Turner continued:
“It is critical that services are protected, and we urge Conservatives of the County Council to work with the opposition parties to ensure this happens in the short term. In the longer term, it is clear that local government in Northamptonshire needs reorganisation, and that the County Council’s position on this has been the major hold-up over the past few years. The County Council should recognise the position of the Borough and District Councils regarding this issue, and work with them towards a reorganisation based on three Unitary Councils across the County, recognising that this is critical to ensuring the future sustainability of government in Northamptonshire.“
Local government as we know it is almost certain to change drastically in the next few years. There has been serious talk of disbanding the current two-tier council system here in Northamptonshire and discussions about setting up unitary authorities have been ongoing since late 2015. Whilst most political parties support the idea, Labour has consistently blocked any changes. The Green Party believe the best option for Northamptonshire is to split into three unitary councils, one for Northampton, one for the north/east of the county, and one for the south/west.
Unitary councils would benefit local people, for example, as one council would be in control of environmental services, public transport and highways. Currently borough/district councils, for example, are drawing up clean air strategies, but the county council is the authority with the power to change public transport or build more roads to alleviate the concentration of nitrogen dioxide in specific areas.
There is a temporary reprieve for library services, with a revised proposal which would see volunteers running libraries next year. The county council would continue to fund the library service until April 1st 2019, with the authority paying a further year of rent in 2019/20 and community groups responsible for utility costs. There are also revised proposals relating to Trading Standards and the County Connect and Call Connect on-demand bus services. Cabinet will meet to discuss the final budget proposals next Tuesday, February 13th.