Cabinet members face calls to resign from members of the public at Northamptonshire County Council meeting

Cabinet members quiz director of finance over the section 114 issued earlier this month Mark McLaughlin
Cabinet members quiz director of finance over the section 114 issued earlier this month Mark McLaughlin

Northamptonshire County Council cabinet members were asked to step down by members of the public speakers at a cabinet meeting yesterday.

In the first public meeting not to be webcasted by the council as a result of the spending controls imposed on the authority, senior councillors heard from academics, councillors, campaigners and others ahead of making recommendations on the draft budget for 2018-2019.

First to speak at what Heather Smith described as one of the most important meetings of the year was Dr Graham St John-Willey, who brought along several mock Magna Cartas, which he later offered to cabinet members.

Dr St John-Willey argued a transfer of ownership of the county's libraries away from the council and into the hands of communities was contrary to the 13th-century document, which enforced the rule of law in the country.

This is because the council was asking people to undertake a task meant, by law, to be the responsibility of the authority.

He told cabinet members they were failing to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service given they were "dismantling" the current structure.

The next speaker, retired librarian Alison Richards, likened the situation to a divorce by virtue of the council breaking up with its libraries.

She warned that a reliance on the voluntary sector to help out with the community-run libraries was a risk.

The cabinet faced calls to "do the decent thing and step down" by Colin Britcher, even if it is too late to make a difference.

He said: "The truth is that some of you are concerned only about yourselves."

Tony Banks also called for the cabinet to resign after their continued failure to heed warning signs.

"This crisis has not come out of the blue," said Mr Banks.

Liberal Democrat borough councillor and former county councillor, Sally Beardsworth, said reports dated to 2006 had shown the UK had an ageing population and so the authority should have been better prepared for an increased demand for adult services.

She continued by asking why the council listened to a Conservative Government trying to curry favour with voters during the coalition when it asked local authorities not to raise council tax.

"You have done the populist thing by not raising council tax," said Cllr Beardsworth.

Anjona Roy, the chief executive of Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council, said now, more than ever, transparency and scrutiny were important.

She was also concerned about decision to stop webcasting given the importance of the meeting, and its timing in the context of the wider issues facing the council

The Labour candidate for the Nene Valley ward in last year's county council elections, Nikesh Jani, spoke about the last cabinet in December which saw a young boy plead with the council to keep his local library open.

Citing Heather Smith's reaction to the boy's plea, Mr Jani said: "Chair you were really nice to him but you ignored his request.".