Historic final budget is agreed by Northamptonshire County Council

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Northamptonshire County Council has agreed its final ever budget on a historic afternoon at County Hall.

Council tax will increase by the maximum amount of 1.99 per cent while a two per cent social care precept will be added on top. The £445 million budget also includes £22.3 million of ‘efficiency’ savings to services – the majority of which are in adult social care.

Proposals also include the closure of the Evelyn Wright care home in Daventry, while an amendment from the Liberal Democrats to reinstate £300,000 of funding for winter gritting cuts and a councillor empowerment fund was rejected.

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The budget, the last in the council’s 130-year history, finally rewarded staff with a four per cent pay rise, and also put more into the authority’s once depleted reserves, with the figure to stand at £42 million at the end of the 2020/21 financial year in March.

The final budget in Northamptonshire County Council's 130-year history was agreed at County HallThe final budget in Northamptonshire County Council's 130-year history was agreed at County Hall
The final budget in Northamptonshire County Council's 130-year history was agreed at County Hall | jpimedia

Speaking at the budget meeting at County Hall today (February 20), the council’s Conservative leader Councillor Matt Golby said: “This budget will give staff a pay rise, will invest in pothole repair machines and puts more money into contingency and reserves. If this is not laying a good foundation for the unitaries then I don’t know what is.”

The budget was presented by cabinet member for finance Councillor Malcolm Longley, who told councillors: “Our belief is that we will end up with a balanced budget this year [19/20] and next year [20/21] is one of the most robust budgets that I’ve seen. So we should be going into the unitary with three years of balanced books, three years where borrowing has gone down and three years where the reserves have gone up. That will be the legacy that we hand over to the unitary.”

The Liberal Democrat motion had called for the removal of £300,000 of cuts to the precautionary road gritting network, and to reinstate a councillor empowerment fund which awarded £5,000 to each councillor to grant to local groups.

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But the amendment was lost after Conservative councillors voted against it, and it failed to win the backing of Labour councillors who supported the gritting proposals but not the restoration of the empowerment fund, with members of the party abstaining.

Labour’s finance spokesman Councillor Mick Scrimshaw said the budget ‘goes a long way to deal with some of the short term problems this council has, but it leaves long term questions unanswered’. The party’s leader Councillor Bob Scott said the ‘more robust’ budget was largely down to the government appointed commissioners, while his colleague John McGhee added: “The Conservatives’ financial record is a disaster. That’s why this council is going to die after 130 years of history. It’s because of your financial mismanagement. You have failed year after year.”

But Conservative councillor Dr Andy Mercer hit back: “We are discussing a budget, not history. We are talking about a budget that puts money back into reserves. What’s not to like? We have sorted things out. We have an improved council.”

And leader Councillor Golby responded: “The Labour group can’t handle this can they? When there’s been previous budgets they didn’t like it was ‘our’ budget but now there’s nothing wrong with it they are saying it is somebody else’s [the commissioners]. This budget has come from us all, councillors, officers, staff and commissioners.

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“A couple of years ago the wheels came off, but we made the commitment to leave services and finances in a better place for the unitaries.”

Every Conservative member voted through the budget, while Labour didn’t offer any amendments but abstained in the vote. The two Liberal Democrats were joined by a sole independent councillor, former Tory member Jim Hakewill, in voting against the budget.