EXCLUSIVE: Ex-council leader brands Northamptonshire report a 'whitewash' in defence of his 10-year record

Former county council leader Jim Harker has labelled the inspection report as a "whitewash".
Former county council leader Jim Harker has labelled the inspection report as a "whitewash".

The former leader of Northamptonshire County Council says he takes "no responsibility" for its financial meltdown despite being at the helm for more than 10 years.

Jim Harker stepped down as leader in May 2016, after 10 years in charge.

Councillor Jim Harker in 2015 announcing the Next Generation council model alongside then finance chief Councillor Bil Parker, left, and former chief executive, Paul Blantern.

Councillor Jim Harker in 2015 announcing the Next Generation council model alongside then finance chief Councillor Bil Parker, left, and former chief executive, Paul Blantern.

During his tenure, the former chartered surveyor oversaw successive tax freezes in a bid to win public support.

He was also in charge in 2015, when the council announced plans to deliver its services through a series of "federated" companies - later branded as the Next Generation Model.

On Thursday, his successor Heather Smith stood down after a Government-appointed inspector described a culture of financial mismanagement at County Hall dating back to 2013, when the council's children's services were branded inadequate.

But speaking today, Mr Harker said he bore no responsibility for the recent downfall at a council likely to have emergency spending controls in place for months.

Jim Harker at the Delapre Abbey opening yesterday.

Jim Harker at the Delapre Abbey opening yesterday.

He told the Chron: "I take no responsibility in that respect - the real problem was emphasised time and time again.

"It was a lack of funding for public services from central Government - this is nothing new.

"It was said by the Local Government Association (LGA), we have been telling the MPs this for years.

"We are being squeezed in a county such as this which is seeing enormous growth every year.

Jim Harker.

Jim Harker.

"We have 15,000 new people coming to live here every year.

"How on earth can anyone do the job that's required."

Speaking about the treatment of his successor, Mr Harker lashed out at the Conservative MPs who called for her resignation.

"I think that she has been treated really badly and, frankly, I think she can feel as if she has been bullied when she should have been supported by the people around her," he said.

In a defiant interview, Mr Harker went on to say he disagreed with the findings of Government inspector Max Caller "entirely".

He said: "The report seemed to acknowledge that there were real challenges in public funding in one sentence - then say these challenges were 'irrelevant' in another.

"I disagree with it absolutely, I think the report is a whitewash designed to get the Government off the hook."

Mr Harker said he had no regrets about presiding over successive council tax freezes during his time in charge at County Hall.

And despite Max Caller's criticism of the Next Generation Model in his report, the "lack of clarity" over the way it was initially set up and the fact it has been now been virtually scrapped, Mr Harker stood by it.

"The Government told us to use up our reserves and find better ways of doing things.

"Paul Blantern came up with this ambitious, but only potentially successful, way of doing it, but it was never given the proper investment."