Officers and councillors both at fault in Northamptonshire County Council failings says leader

Council leader Matt Golby and chief executive Theresa Grant addressed the county council's recent failings at a press conference unveiling the latest budget proposals
Council leader Matt Golby and chief executive Theresa Grant addressed the county council's recent failings at a press conference unveiling the latest budget proposals

Northamptonshire County Council leader Matt Golby says that it is up to former senior figures to hold their hands up and apologise if they felt they played a part in the authority’s failings.

And he says that both officers and councillors played their part in the lead up to the county council effectively declaring itself bankrupt twice.

A report by government inspector Max Caller said that ‘living within budget constraints is not part of the culture of NCC’ when it was published back in March 2018.

The county is hoping that such days are now consigned to the past, and is on track to deliver both a balanced budget for this year, and for 2019/20. However, it has had a massive helping hand from the Government in allowing it to use £70million of capital funds for its revenue budget, an unprecedented move in local government.

But few of the senior figures involved in the county council during its ‘next generation’ model phase, such as chief executive Dr Paul Blantern, and council leader Jim Harker, remain at the council.

Speaking at a press conference to unveil the latest budget, leader Matt Golby - who was previously a cabinet member before becoming leader - said he ‘didn’t want to rake over previous decisions’ when asked who the responsibility for the financial crisis laid with.

He said: “I think the most succinct answer I can give is that knowing what a good council looks like has been severely lacking here, but I’m confident that we now know what good looks like, especially from senior leadership.

“I don’t think it happened overnight, you have to go back a good 10 years plus and, you can associate it with the political leadership of course, and equally the officers. Max Caller made very clear in his report that there was a deficiency in some of the senior officers and the advice given to members.

“So officers played a big part of it. Equally it is members’ role to challenge and offer that strategic leadership.”

Upon publication of the Max Caller report, former leader Councillor Harker took ‘no responsibility’ over the state the council found itself in, saying that the problems were due to reduced funding from central government.

Asked about Councillor Harker’s role in the downfall, Councillor Golby said: “I’m not going to say that it’s Jim’s fault, but you have to put it into the context of the previous decisions. Nobody ever comes into leadership roles to do a bad job, but it’s incumbent on us as the political leadership to make sure that we’re challenging the senior leadership.

“It’s up to them [to put their hands up and apologise] and I’m clear what my role is now, and that’s moving the council forward. I’ve acknowledged my role in the back end of the last iteration of the cabinet, but it’s very clear that we have a job to deal with the finances and the services as we transition into unitary. And whilst we’re not celebrating the fact we have this budget balanced today, it’s a step forward.”

Theresa Grant only took over as chief executive in the summer, and says that an upcoming auditors report may shed some more light on the decision making in previous years.

She said: “The 16/17 accounts are not yet signed off by auditors, and that report will come out in the next month and I would expect it would no doubt highlight some of the historic challenges. I’m expecting it to give me some answers over the financial position, and help me to understand more.”