'Dear communities secretary: Northamptonshire cannot meet £133 million deficit without your help', write Labour heads

Former housing minister Sally Keeble is one of 10 signatories on the letter.
Former housing minister Sally Keeble is one of 10 signatories on the letter.

Leaders of Northamptonshire's Labour groups and its parliamentary candidates have penned an urgent plea for a government bailout - claiming the Conservative county council leaders have no plan to meet a £133 million black hole.

The letter sent yesterday to the local government secretary, states that the council somehow needs to find the £133 million to balance last year's budget, break even this year and unearth the £80 million needed to disband the council altogether before 2020.

Opposition leader on the county council, Councillor Bob Scott.

Opposition leader on the county council, Councillor Bob Scott.

But it blames the Tory administration for failing to come up with a realistic plan to meet those targets - punching holes in what it calls a 'fanciful' stabilisation plan that may not even be legally sound and may not achieve a balanced account this year.

The only way forward, the Labour chiefs say, is to broker a meeting with local government secretary James Brokenshire to discuss a 'recovery package'.

The Labour leaders at every council in Northamptonshire, plus parliamentary candidates Beth Miller, Gareth Eales and Sally Keeble, have now penned a joint letter to Mr Brokenshire calling for just that.

The letter, signed by 10 in total, reads: "We believe that the inability of the Conservative administration to manage the finances or services poses acute risks to the most vulnerable people in Northamptonshire.

Northampton South candidate Gareth Eales.

Northampton South candidate Gareth Eales.

"We are therefore asking for an urgent meeting to look at a recovery package that will provide a sustainable basis for the county’s services over a period of time.

"We also want to see much greater transparency of the county’s procedures and finances, including a public inquiry into LGSS and NEA which have been responsible for some of the council’s most egregious financial dealings."

LGSS, set up under former chief executive Dr Paul Blantern, manages the back-office functions of the authority as part of a shared deal with Cambridgeshire and Milton Keynes.

NEA Properties Limited is a company owned by the county council, which is now the centre of an external investigation after it was revealed it made a £60,000 payment to a cabinet member's private firm in 2014.

The letter says the council's stabilisation plan, a list of proposals drawn up to try and get it back on an even financial footing in September, are 'unachievable'.

The council is currently on course to end 2018/19 £18 million over budget and still has a deficit brought forward from 2017/18 of £35 million.

The Labour leaders question whether aspects of the plan are even legal.

Moves to increase the council tax collection rate in the county, it says, are questionable on that basis as taxes are collected by the districts and borough councils, netiher of whom have stated whether they will comply.

Other proposals, it says, have featured in budgets - and have failed - before, such as relinquishing responsibility for St Johns care home for young people in Tiffield.

The letter says the Government now needs to step in and provide urgent help.

The opposition leaders say Whitehall should pay for the plans to set up two unitary authorities in Northamptonshire when the county and districts are abolished in 2020.

It also asks for the council's current liabilities to be moved to a 'residual body', that could be paid off over a longer period.

The letter concludes by saying: "We therefore are appealing to you to intervene to prevent further risk to life of the most vulnerable people in the County and to end the disarray in our public finances."

A spokesman for Northamptonshire County Council said: “These are unprecedented times for us and as such we need a robust plan to address the financial challenges we now face.

“The Stabilisation Plan alongside our latest financial reports show how we are now moving firmly towards stabilising our budget position.

“A great deal of work has been done with the Commissioners to make sure we move towards financial stability.

“However we are of course acutely aware that the challenge to deliver this plan is significant and as such we will now focus all our energy on doing so.”