Concerns about Northamptonshire County Council's finances after scrutiny committee not kept in loop

The council's scrutiny committee is concerned about not having any detail of the council's current financial situation.
The council's scrutiny committee is concerned about not having any detail of the council's current financial situation.

Concerns have been raised that no details of Northamptonshire County Council’s finances have been made public three months into the financial year.

The council’s scrutiny committee, whose role is to keep a keen eye on the accounts of the financially-strapped authority, has twice been put off after requests for reports.

At the scrutiny committee meeting last Tuesday (June 26) an update on the finances was scheduled but chief finance officer Ian Duncan instead said the finances would first have to be presented to cabinet, which is due to meet on Tuesday, July 9.

Committee member Cllr Richard Auger said: “We are now nearly into July and I feel blindsided at the moment. I’d like to know where we are, where we are going, what the projections are.

“It is self preservation. In any post-budget investigation they will ask the question what was scrutiny doing and I don’t want to be accused of not looking into anything. We need to grip this up, it is unfair that if anything goes wrong that we should be culpable of any mismanagement.”

There is much interest in the finances of the council, which is being overseen by two Government-appointed commissioners.

This financial year will be critical for the council, which is heading towards being abolished in April 2021. The 2017/18 finance accounts, which put the authority into the world headlines after failing to balance, has still not been signed off by auditors, which means the 2018/19 accounts have now been delayed.

They should now be open to public inspection but that has not been able to happen. This year the council has to make more than £40m worth of savings to balance its books.

A total of £23m has been earmarked to come out of adult social care but the director has already said the care part of the budget is £6m overspent and that savings in other parts of the service will need to be made to mitigate against that.

Cllr Julie Davenport echoed Cllr Auger’s concerns, along with a number of other councillors.

She said: “It is four months into this financial year. When we started we had a lot of talks with portfolio holders and directors telling how much they were going to save on procurement and I have not seen where they are telling us that those savings are there.”

Chair Mick Scrimshaw said he was very disappointed about the delays.