Northamptonshire County Council backs £40m budget cuts

Council meeting
Image caption,
Northamptonshire County Council agreed £39.2m of savings to balance its books

A financially-troubled council has agreed a budget involving nearly £40m of cuts.

Protesters at the meeting called the Conservative-controlled Northamptonshire County Council a "ship that has hit the iceberg".

Councillors agreed the budget, which includes plans to shut 21 libraries and freeze staff pay, by 35 votes to 13.

The council is currently facing a government inspection into allegations of financial mismanagement.

It has emergency spending controls in place.

At a glance - Northamptonshire County Council's revised budget savings

  • Closing 21 small libraries, retaining the county's eight large and seven medium libraries
  • Removing all bus subsidies, including CountyConnect and CallConnect, from the end of the school term in July
  • Reducing the trading standards budget by 42%
  • Reducing the highways maintenance budget for carriageway and footpath repairs and inspections
  • Increasing on-street parking controls in locations across Northamptonshire
  • Reducing councillors' allowances
  • A pay freeze for staff during 2018/19

Robin Brown, cabinet member for finance, told the meeting: "This is the hardest budget that has ever been set.

"Seemingly the eyes of the world are on us today, and our backs are against the wall.

"There is a danger the county council might be operating beyond its means and go into the red. That is something we are not allowed to do, by law.

"We do not set a budget solely to balance the books. We set it to make sure the services our public expect, and deserve, are being delivered."

Image caption,
On Tuesday night the council leader Heather Smith (centre) lost a no confidence vote by Conservative group members

Labour's spokesman for finance on the council, Mick Scrimshaw, said: "The council is beyond the point of no return, and this budget is a recognition of that fact.

"Don't ask us to support this budget. It's a work of fiction and won't solve the financial problems facing this council.

"As of tomorrow we've got to get back to the drawing board and start again. But this time please listen to others."

Analysis - Tom Barton, BBC Look East political reporter

Councillors in Northamptonshire have approved a budget containing a £40m reduction in spending.

It comes after the troubled county council became the first local authority in nearly 20 years to impose emergency spending controls earlier this month, and last week auditors said earlier budget proposals were "potentially unlawful" because they hadn't identified sufficient savings.

But despite widespread unhappiness about the scale of cuts among many of the Conservatives on this authority, the vast majority of them backed the budget. Three voted against and one abstained.

Today was the last day Northamptonshire's councillors could agree a budget in time to get council tax bills to the county's residents. If they failed to agree a budget, councillors were warned the council could run out of cash.

After passing today's budget the council remains on a deeply unstable financial footing. More cuts are widely expected throughout the next year, while an inspection ordered by the Local Government Secretary is due to report in two weeks' time.

At a cabinet budget meeting on Tuesday, Anna Earnshaw, director of adult social care at the council, said her department was on the "edge of being unsafe" with 2,000 unassigned cases.

She told the meeting the service was "severely underfunded".

Earlier this month, the council's auditor KPMG told it to make more savings and warned the authority its books did not balance and may break the law.

Heather Smith, the council's leader, lost a no-confidence vote on Tuesday evening among her Conservative group members, but she hasn't stepped down from her role.

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