Crucial meeting will determine service 'priorities' ahead of county council cuts

Councillors will debate the authority's priorities ahead of service cuts at County Hall tonight
Councillors will debate the authority's priorities ahead of service cuts at County Hall tonight

Councillors will tonight prioritise the areas and services which they hope to protect from upcoming cuts as the county council tries to balance its budget.

Elected members will convene in County Hall at 5.30pm today (August 1) to determine a set of benchmarks against which they will make decisions on whether to cut services.

The authority has to find potentially up to £70 million worth of savings in this financial year, with the council’s chief finance officer last week issuing a second Section 114 notice in the last six months, banning new expenditure.

While no big financial decisions will be made at the meeting tonight, it is likely to highlight which non-statutory services could face the cuts.

Council leader Matt Golby said: “We know following last week and the S114 notice that we’ve been leading up to this point. I guess we’ve got to look at making some more efficiency savings, and we need a set of priorities which we can benchmark any future decisions against.

“Once we have decided on that hierarchy, the directorates will go away and map their services and spending in accordance with it. That will give us a way of finding out where we can look at.”

The paper which councillors will debate includes ‘core offers’ in areas such as children’s services, adult social care and health and safety - and reflects only those services that the council is obliged to deliver in line with its statutory duties and which will be funded according to the agreed ‘hierarchy of priorities’.

Currently, the officer recommendations list the main priority for the council as "keeping vulnerable people" safe. Other priorities include complying with statutory duties where there is no a risk of harm; providing services that have a clear cost avoidance impact; and engaging with local communities beyond statutory requirements.

Cllr Golby added: “Where there’s a business case for investing in something so that future demand on services will be reduced, then that’s something we have got to be considering.

“Part of the conversation moving forward will be sitting down with the other district councils, and the voluntary sector and looking at where we think they can step in if the council can’t.”

Conservative county councillor Jason Smithers added: “The meeting is really about prioritising services. But make no mistake, there’s going to be some pretty horrific cuts.

“Whilst I’m very sympathetic and feel so bad, these cuts are necessary for us to deliver somewhere near a balanced budget. The people of Northamptonshire are being punished for errors of judgement by previous leaders, which is unfair. But there’s no other way.”

Service directors are likely to be given two weeks following tonight’s meeting to map out spending in their services, before decisions on potential cuts are made. Councillors will also meet next week on August 9 to discuss the Section 114 notice that was issued last week.