'We need the commissioners to step in': Man in charge at Northamptonshire County Council admits Government help is needed

Councillor Matt Golby says commissioners must now be called in to run the county council.
Councillor Matt Golby says commissioners must now be called in to run the county council.

The acting man in charge at County Hall believes the Government must step in to run services in Northamptonshire.

Councillor Matt Golby, now the interim leader during one of the toughest periods in the council’s history, believes so-called Government commissioners must be drafted in as per the recommendations in Mr Caller’s report.

Councillor Matt Golby.

Councillor Matt Golby.

“I think the organisation needs it now,” he said. “It needs a clear link with the Government so they know what pressures we are dealing with.

“It is so they know what the source facts are - particularly in adults and children’s services.”

Mr Caller recommends the Government sends in commissioners to run all services at the council, except for planning, for two years.

When they were drafted in to rectify concerns of sexism and bullying in Rotherham, they managed to attract extra funding to the council.

But Councillor Golby said Northamptonshire is still in the dark as to whether they would leverage funds.

“That’s the million dollar question,” he said. “Literally.

“We are in a state of limbo as to what is going to happen next.”

Councillor Golby has thrown his hat into the ring for the permanent leadership job, unlikely to be decided until next month at the earliest.

The member for Duston West and St Crispin says he is the man to unite a divided local party - heavily criticised by four of the county’s MPs and a group of Tory council backbenchers.

“One of the things I have done is to contact all of your MPs and make it clear we acknowledge the failings in the report,” he said.

“We want to work together as one and they all said they would help.

“From Thursday (when Heather Smith resigned) to Friday, their attitudes changed completely.”

Councillor Golby also talked of giving promotions to “young blood” in the party, some of whom were critical of the outgoing leader.

Put simply, commissioners are a crack team of local government experts, sent in by the Department for Communities into struggling councils to get them back on track.

While the council will have an opportunity to respond to the inspection report now, ultimately it will be down to the communities secretary Sajid Javid to decide whether he takes that course of action.

While rare, Northamptonshire wouldn’t be the first place to see this happen.

Recently, in the London borough of Tower Hamlets Mr Caller himself - as a former London borough chief executive - was one of a team of commissioners sent in following a damning report.

The firm PricewaterhouseCoopers found “a worrying pattern of divisive community politics and alleged mismanagement of public money by the Mayoral administration” at the council and the Government sent in a team late in 2014.

They remained in place until March last year and during that time took responsibility for grant-making, for selling off assets and even took the reins of the council’s publicity machine.

Whether the commissioners would have the same remit in Northamptonshire remains to be seen.

But Mr Caller’s recommendation was broad.

He said the secretary of state should give “serious consideration” to all services, with the exception of planning, being run by commissioners “with the full powers of the council”.

This, he suggests, will allow the council officers to work on establishing two unitary councils to run services.

Branch secretary of the county council Unison branch, which represents 1,200 staff at Angel Square, Penny Smith, said: “We have had far too much grandstanding from our elected members over the years so we welcome this approach.”