Commissioner drafted in to rescue Northamptonshire County Council outlines contract cull

Tony McArdle has given his first interviews sincebeing drafted in to rescue Northamptonshire County Council.
Tony McArdle has given his first interviews sincebeing drafted in to rescue Northamptonshire County Council.

A bonfire of county council-held contracts could be on the way as the authority looks to halt a £70 million overspend this year.

That is according to Tony McArdle, one of the Government commissioners sent in to steady the financial ship at One Angel Square in 
May.

Mr McArdle left his post as chief executive of Lincolnshire County Council in January. He was drafted in to balance Northamptonshire's books in May.

Mr McArdle left his post as chief executive of Lincolnshire County Council in January. He was drafted in to balance Northamptonshire's books in May.

Giving his first interview since taking over the task alongside Brian Roberts two months ago, Mr McArdle said his main focus now - having undertaken a forensic look at the accounts - was to formulate a plan for getting the authority out of the financial mire.

Part, of that, he said would require shedding contracts with a number third-party service providers.

He said: “We are going to have to examine where reasonably we can cut costs.

“If you think that 70 per cent of the money that this council spends every year is on third-party contracts the questions you have to ask are - are those necessary and correct?

“Some will have been there for some time. Some will be very large, some will not fit in with the new objectives this council is going to set.

“There are hundreds from the large highways contract (with Kier WSP) to the contracts for childrens’ care and adult care.

“All of them will be reviewed.”

Over £1 billion of PFI contracts, large private loans taken out by the council to fund capital projects will also form part of that review.

Speaking on the same day the second Section 114 notice was issued at One Angel Square, the former Lincolnshire chief executive said the financial situation in Northamptonshire was ‘exceptional’.

“The authority has gone over the cliff,” he told this newspaper.

“It is at the bottom looking at how to climb back up.”

But he said that neighbouring authorities, particularly Leicesteshire, had manage to cope in equally strenuous conditions.

“All this council is being asked to do is what every other council has been asked to do,” he added.

Mr McArdle has revealed that he and Mr Roberts, who cost £1,500 for every day they day work, are advising the council in a part-time capacity to minimise their cost.

Part of their task will be to lend their expertise to the current “inexperienced” administration, led by Councillor Matt Golby.

It will also be to instill what he said was a “discipline” for managing budgets, even though the council itself is unlikely to exist beyond 2020 when it is replaced by two unitary authorities.

“This is all important for the unitaries that may come,” he said. “Because if the right cu lture isn’t in place, they will start off in a way of doing things that won’t serve them well.”