Northants County Council Faces Damning Report
15 March 2018, 14:23
The embattled leader of Northants County Council, Heather Smith has stepped down after the authority's been slapped with a damning report concluding the only way forward is for it to be scrapped.
Government inspectors carrying a Best Value inspection of the council's finances and how it's been run says - effectively - it had given up on strong and tight controls of it's budget.
The report headlined Northamptonshire County Council (NCC) failed to comply with its duty under the Local Government Act 1999 to provide best value in the delivery of its services.
The report said NCC "lost tight budgetary control" and appeared to "abandon strong and effective budget setting scrutiny".
Instead of taking steps to regain control, the Council was persuaded to adopt a ‘Next Generation’ model structure as the solution. There was not then and has never been any hard edged business plan or justification to support these proposals, yet Councillors, who might well have dismissed these proposals for lack of content and justification in their professional lives, adopted them and authorised scarce resources in terms of people, time and money to develop them.
Inspectors found that even after independent auditors KMPG warned the authority in February with a notice that the authority's budget might not be legally sound, the Council still appeared to struggle to take the necessary decisions at both member and officer level to control and restrain expenditure to remain within budget constraints.
BEST WAY FORWARD - GET RID OF THE ENTRIRE COUNCIL
The Inspection team say they believe "a new start" is needed in order for the residents of Northamptonshire to have confidence in having a quality Local Government service.
The report suggests the best way that can happen is for the end of the County Council and the setting up of two new Unitary Councils (one covering Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire - the other for Corby, East Northants, Kettering and Wellingborough.
These should be established following elections to be held in May 2020 and be in operation commencing at their first annual meeting.
Inspectors also say the Secretary of State should give serious consideration to whether Commissioners should take over the running of all services save planning currently provided by Northamptonshire County Council.
THE COUNCIL's RESPONSE
Northamptonshire County Council has accepted the findings of the Best Value Inspection report and it will now be looking to respond to the Secretary of State within the coming days.
The council has welcomed the recommendation within the report to move to unitary governance in the county and is now committed to working alongside partners to achieve this in the timescale outlined.
Leader of the council Cllr Heather Smith has announced she will be resigning as council leader. The process to find a new leader will now take place.
Cllr Matthew Golby said:
"While I am pleased the report recognises the hard work and dedication of the staff and recognises recent progress in financial management it is clear that the inspector has found what he believes to be significant failings at the council.
We accept the findings and we will now be acting accordingly and responding directly to the secretary of state.
While the report accepts the figures we use in arguing our case for fairer funding, it states we are in no worse position than other councils. We would argue that the sector as a whole does face significant financial challenges and we will continue to work with our local government partners to present our case.
While we will make these points in our response, we should in no way hide away from the general thrust of this report.
We will now be reviewing the report is far further detail and respond directly to the Secretary of State."