The leader of Northamptonshire County Council has said that he wants his colleagues to ‘talk the council up’ as it continues its financial recovery.
Councillor Matt Golby acknowledged that the county had made headlines across the globe for an ‘internationally recognised crisis’ as it effectively declared itself bankrupt twice in 2018.
The Conservative leader made the comments at the annual council meeting on Thursday (May 23), which officially opened the council year for 2019/20.
He said: “The message for this year is that we accept that there is still much to do. We have to start all over again. This year, setting a budget will prove challenging, but we have got good people here and with the backing of everyone in this chamber we can do that.
“This has been an internationally recognised crisis here in Northamptonshire. I want us to talk Northamptonshire and this county council up now. Critically in children’s services, we need people to come here and stay. Let’s talk about how hard we are all working in interviews so that we have an environment where people can flourish and feel they can stay.”
The county ended the year virtually balancing its budget, though it included unprecedented government help in the form of allowing it to use £70million of capital receipts – normally ring-fenced for infrastructure projects and building assets – to wipe out its £40million debts and replenish its depleted reserves.
Westminster has also allowed the council to raise council tax by 4.99 per cent for 2019/20 without putting the proposals to the public through a referendum, which will bring in an extra £5.8million.
But Councillor Golby stated that the coming year would not be an easy one, with £23.1million in efficiency savings in adult social services, and £10.3million from children’s services. And a recent report from the council’s children’s commissioner Malcolm Newsam said that services remained ‘very fragile’.
Councillor Golby said: “The challenges have been relentless over the last year. But we have made significant progress. We have challenges now, particularly in children’s services, but we are totally dedicated to bringing services into the best possible state.
“I will do my very best to promote what is good about this council and fix what we know needs fixing.
“I also want to thank the staff. They have been through a hell of a lot with us. We had another atrium address recently and thanked them for sticking with us through a very difficult time.”
Many had been expecting this financial year to be the county council’s last ahead of the proposed creation of two new unitary authorities for the county in April 2020.
That, however, has now been delayed until April 2021, giving the county council more time to get its services in shape before it is abolished and replaced by the new councils.
“The question and challenge now is what we want our legacy to be,” said Councillor Golby over the unitary decision.
“We have two years left, so we have to deal with our finances and our services, and also aspire to do everything we can to put best practices in place.
“It’s a welcome decision and it has given us some clarity, and it’s important for our staff too. Rather than a process to get to April 1st, we can instead take time to look at how we can transform the whole of our local government. We have got an immense opportunity and can use this once in a lifetime chance, and put residents at the centre of this.”