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Northamptonshire County Council 'should be split up', finds damning report

The Inspection team believe a “new start” is required for the residents of Northamptonshire. Credit: ITV News Anglia

A damning report into the running of Northamptonshire County Council says it needs to be split up into two unitary authorities.

A report by Max Caller, the Government's Lead Inspector, says a “new start” is required for the residents of Northamptonshire.

In January, Secretary of State for Communities Sajid Javid ordered an independent inspection of the authority.

He said the finding are "very serious both for the council and its residents."

The inspector has identified that the Council has failed to properly comply with its Best Value duty for some time. It concludes “living within budget constraints is not part of the culture of NCC”.

The report sets out in some detail the governance failings which have culminated in the Council’s Chief Finance Officer issuing a section 114 notice to stop new spending and KPMG’s Advisory Notice on the Council’s Budget. It concludes “living within budget constraints is not part of the culture of NCC”.

These findings appear very serious indeed both for the Council and its residents. The inspector has made recommendations for how improvement can be secured. He rules out the option of an internally led strategy and suggests that Commissioners should be appointed in the short term to ensure the proper running of the Council and delivery of services for its taxpayers, whilst proposals for restructuring are developed as a longer term solution.

I will now consider in detail their report’s findings and proposals for the future.

– Sajid Javid MP, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government
Protestors outside Northamptonshire County Council Credit: ITV News Anglia

Emergency spending controls are in place and the troubled council has already agreed to sell-off its new £53m headquarters to try and balance the books.

Lat month, the financially-troubled authority agreed a controversial budget involving nearly £40m of cuts.

The new plans include scrapping all bus subsidies, cutting highways and trading standards budgets and closing 21 smaller libraries, unless community groups run them instead.

The report said its findings are Credit: ITV News Anglia

Here are the main findings from the inspection:

  • NCC employs many good, hardworking, dedicated staff who are trying to deliver essential services to residents who need and value what is offered and available. The problems the council faces are not their fault.
  • In Local Government there is no substitute for doing boring really well. Only when you have a solid foundation can you innovate.
  • For a number of years, NCC has failed to manage its budget and has not taken effective steps to introduce and maintain budgetary control.
  • The council did not respond well, or in many cases even react, to external and internal criticism.
  • Even after the Section 114 notice was issued it appeared to be difficult to ensure that all new spending was controlled and authorised by the Section 151 officer. Living within budget constraints is not part of the culture of NCC.
  • Equally importantly, Borough, District and NHS partners substantially believe that it is not possible to ensure honest and effective partnership working with the County Council and there is a significant level of distrust that NCC will ever be able to commit to and deliver against its promises and undertakings.
  • To change the culture and organisational ethos and to restore balance, would, in the judgement of the inspection team, take of the order of 5 years and require a substantial one off cash injection. Effectively, it would be a reward for failure.
  • A way forward with a clean sheet, leaving all the history behind, is required.
In January, Communities Secretary Sajid Javid ordered an independent inspection of the authority. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Inspector Caller said Northamptonshire should have two new unitary authorities by 2020, one covering Daventry, Northampton and South Northamptonshire and the other covering Corby, East Northamptonshire, Kettering and Wellingborough.

This means the county council would be scrapped as a single authority.

The report recommends the Secretary of State should bring in commissioners to run the cash-strapped council.

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