INSPECTOR’S VERDICT: Northamptonshire politicians react to county council report

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Northamptonshire politicians have reacted to the findings of today’s damning inspection report.

Government inspector Max Caller’s verdict on the county council’s ability to manage its own finances points to a series of failures.

It recommends the creation of two authorities, abolishing the current county model, and sending in commissioners to effectively run the council in the meantime.

MP for Kettering Philip Hollobone said: “The Government Inspector’s report is a damning indictment of local government mismanagement at the county council at the highest level within the council.

“It reveals that the council started to lose control of its finances in 2013 following an adverse report into how it was running children’s social services and that ever since then a series of wrong financial and management decisions by leading cabinet members and senior officers made the problem worse and worse.

“A serious warning about financial problems that lay ahead was effectively ignored by the county council cabinet in October 2015.

“Had action been taken then, the county council may not be in the situation it is today.

“I agree with the inspector’s findings that a new start is required for the residents of Northamptonshire by the replacement of the present county, district and borough councils with two new unitary councils by May 2020, one for north of the county, and one for the west of the county.”

Labour county councillor Mick Scrimshaw (Northall) fears the Government could make an example of Northamptonshire if they send in commissioners.

He said: “I think they [the Government] will come in with a sledgehammer and send a clear message to other councils about finances.

“The only people who would lose out will be the people of Northamptonshire.

“I think it’s good in a way that this long-running saga is seemingly coming to an end but the people who have been hit and will continue to get hurt are local residents.”

He added that he can see both sides of the argument for creating two new councils.

He said: “An awful lot of work needs to be done before we get close to that [new unitary authorities].

“I think it should still be up for debate as I can see the benefits and the drawbacks of it.”

Sally Keeble, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Northampton North, said: “The priority must be to protect people in the county - and especially the vulnerable who rely on services.

“And to safeguard jobs for the staff who have served the council and people so loyally through such difficult times.

“Just a few months ago the Tory government and council were congratulating each other at the opening of the £53 million Angel Square - now the subject of a fire sale.

“And this week the Tory Chancellor failed to put more money into either local services or the NHS.

“What we need is a change of direction that will put people first.”

Away from the county, Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s shadow communities and local government secretary, said: “This report is a damning verdict on the running of Tory controlled Northamptonshire County Council.

“Despite repeated warnings over the council’s catastrophic mismanagement of services and finances this Tory Government turned a blind eye, something for which they must be held accountable.

“Not long ago, the Government was attacking councils for ‘pleading poverty’ and urging them to spend their reserves - and the mess at Northamptonshire bears testament to how much of a mistake this was.

“The Government can no longer ignore this crisis and need to finally act on the recommendation of inspectors and heed Labour’s calls to send in commissioners.

“After almost eight years of Tory austerity, we know it is not working.

“It’s not working for Northamptonshire and it’s not working for England.

“We need to elect as many Labour councillors as possible on May 3 to stand up to the Conservatives’ cuts.”

More to follow.