LETTER: Northamptonshire County Council's appointed commissioners give their take on the authority's financial state

Tony McArdle.
Tony McArdle.

The consultation being undertaken by the county council on its budget proposals for next year presents us with an opportunity to give the residents and taxpayers of the county an update on our own activity, write commisioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts.

We were appointed by the Secretary of State for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in May this year.

Brian Roberts.

Brian Roberts.

We were given powers to improve arrangements for governance and scrutiny in the county council and required to take responsibility for strategic finance.

We exercise our powers while being mindful of the need to continue to deliver public services in the interests of the residents of Northamptonshire. The financial situation we faced in Northamptonshire was serious.

The council ended last year in deficit of £35m, was likely to exceed its budget this year by £30m and faced the prospect of having to find a further £60m next year.

We asked the Government for permission to use some of the council’s own money from sales of assets to deal with last year’s debt, and this has been granted.

We have required the council to produce a plan - the Stabilisation Plan - to balance the books this year, and to set out proposals for a balanced budget for next year.

The Stabilisation Plan continues to deliver, and whilst balancing the books this year remains a challenge, the situation continues to improve.

The draft budget for next year has been published.

It involves making some hard choices, hard choices that have had to be made by every council in the country over the last few years but choices that have not always been made in Northamptonshire.

We believe that the draft budget, which will naturally be subject to some changes as it is developed, nonetheless weighs the need to meet the legal obligation of balancing the books
against that of needing to maintain public services and protect vulnerable people.

While the work on finances has been developing we have appointed a chief executive who has an excellent track record of delivering good quality services, including children’s services which have been rated as good by Ofsted, particularly important for Northamptonshire given the difficulties to be addressed; a finance director who is one of the leading subject matter experts in the profession and a transformation director who has private and public experience of delivering significant budget savings while improving the quality of services.

The last six months have not been easy and we are continually conscious of the effect of this turmoil on the council’s staff, who are in the main diligent, hard-working public servants and who deserve to be well led.

Over the next couple of months, quite separately to the council’s legal responsibility for consulting on the draft budget proposed, we thought it right to make ourselves available to you to discuss your concerns.

It is our intention to spend time in every district hosting drop-in sessions for you as individual council taxpayers and residents to come and have a chat.

The dates for these will be published very shortly on Northamptonshire County Council’s website.

If you cannot manage any of the times proposed and have a burning issue that you wish to make us aware of please get in touch.