Northamptonshire councillors to dig deep into county budget but admit it looks ‘better than previous years’

Northamptonshire County Council has revealed its draft budget for 2020/21
Northamptonshire County Council has revealed its draft budget for 2020/21

A committee tasked with scrutinising the county council’s budget has said that it appears to be ‘more robust’ than in recent years – but that they would still be digging deep into it.

Last week saw Northamptonshire County Council unveil its draft budget for the 2020/21 financial year. It includes £23million of cuts to department services – the bulk of which is in adult social services – and proposes a council tax increase of 3.99 per cent inclusive of a social care precept. It does however propose a much welcomed four per cent pay rise for staff.

But Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw, who is chairman of the county council’s overview and scrutiny, says that this year’s budget appears to be ‘better than previous years’.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting this afternoon at One Angel Square, Councillor Scrimshaw told Conservative councillors: “It’s far too early to comment for sure but on paper it does seem to be much better than previous years. The process of putting it together seems to have been much more robust but we will not simply be taking your word that that was the case.

“But there are large figures in this budget that are assumptions. If any of these assumptions are not found to be robust enough there could be serious financial implications for next year.”

Some of those assumptions include an estimated £3.5million saving on a new operating model for reducing delays and spend in adult social services. Despite not yet being in place and only out for tender currently, it accounts for almost a quarter of the £12.9million savings in adult social services.

Conservative councillor Michael Clarke, a former cabinet member for finance, compared the budget to recent years as like ‘a patient who has come out of intensive care’.

But he raised some concerns over the lack of investment in the county’s roads, criticising the low spend on highways compared to other county councils. He said: “I think this is solid and robust. I do think it’s a rather mean budget for place services though. I don’t think it’s good enough. We are one of the lowest spenders on highways and we should see if we can increase this budget. I leave you with that challenge.”

Current cabinet member for finance, Councillor Malcolm Longley, responded: “We welcome scrutiny drilling down on this. There are a lot of assumptions in there but I think they are right. But we are getting opinions on those. Looking at highways, it’s a fair point and no doubt that will come out at scrutiny.”