More than £50 million of Northamptonshire County Council’s drastic £83 million cuts bundle might not be achieved according to a stinging cross-party committee report.
In December the Conservative led authority announced swingeing reductions to the fire and rescue service, school meals, children’s services and adult social care for the 2016/17 financial year.
But a report compiled by the council’s predominantly Tory finance and resources scrutiny committee has expressed serious concerns at how achievable the £82.9 million round of cuts, which have placed 343 jobs at risk, is.
In total just over £50 million of the proposed savings for the 2016/17 were rated “red,“ by the committee, the highest of three risk ratings.
In particular a measure that aims to save the council £9 million by moving its entire children’s services over to a new trust was questioned, when the total children’s services budget is currently around £22 million.
Scrutiny committee member and Liberal Democrats’ budget spokesman at County Hall, Councillor Chris Lofts (Lib Dem, Towcester and Roade), has called the budget a “fantasy.”
He said: “As a whole, this budget is not deliverable.
“The cross-party scrutiny committee has given more than half the items it examined a “red” risk rating – recognising the high likelihood that none of them will be achieved.
“This failure of the administration to effectively plan their spending means that the consultation currently taking place with residents is meaningless.”
The plans to move children’s services over to a new trust are designed to save money by reducing the amount of expensive agency staff currently used by the department.
A trust would be able to entice employees to the new organisation by offering “golden hellos,” or financial incentives, which the council cannot offer.
But the scrutiny committee has reported back that it is “not confident “ a £9 million saving can be achieved within a year due to the initial costs in setting up the Northamptonshire Children’s Trust.
Even a number of relatively small savings were marked as a red risk, such as a plan to save £65,000 by getting rid of the Countywide Traveller Unit (CTU), which among its roles, works to move on traveller encampments that have pitched up in illegal areas.
The report states: “It was felt that the cessation of the CTU could leave (the county council) needing to use a less productive, legal approach to deal with matters relating to travellers and could lead to increased demand on other services supporting wellbeing.”
Councillor Lofts has also levelled criticism over the perceived vagueness of a number of the proposed cuts.
“Consultation documents are full of generalisations, claims that they will have no effect on people, management-speak and gobbledegook,” he said.
County council cabinet member for finance, Councillor Bill Parker (Con, Clover Hill) said: “This county council is facing unprecedented demand for local services at a time when funding from central government is being reduced, meaning there are some difficult choices to make.
“The RAG (risk) ratings awarded by the finance and resource scrutiny committee are not simply about whether our budget proposals are deliverable.
“They also consider issues such as due consideration being given to the wider effects of the savings proposed and whether we are taking full advantage of effective partnership working with our borough and district councils in order to make the best use of the overall resources available to Northamptonshire.
“The scrutiny process is an important part of the decision-making process and the wider consultation, and if we don’t make the savings we’ve proposed, we have to identify alternative savings elsewhere.”