Northamptonshire County council have a plan to revolutionise council services. Basically they intend for all the services they provide to be delivered by third party organisations, charities, private companies and brand new organisations set up by the council but technically separate from them.
Whenever any questions are raised about improving services or dealing with the financial mess the council is in, the answer is always that the next generation model will sort it out.
Only this week for example when I once again suggested to the council’s ruling cabinet that they should use their size and assets to try and bring in long term revenue into the council so they wouldn’t have to rely on either cutting services or putting up council tax. Council’s can access relatively cheap capital borrowing to kick-start investment programmes to bring in rental and other income for example, and council’s up and down the country (including Kettering) are doing this, but in response I was told that under the next generation model they could sell services to others at a profit to bring in extra cash.
This begs the question who on earth would pay Northants County Council to provide services for them given their poor track record? For example since a series of damming reports about Children’s services from OFSTED three years ago and an extra £63m spent on improving the service, it has only just been taken out of special measures and is still ‘in need of improvement’.
The question of the Next Generation Model was raised again this week at a full council meeting when the independent chair of the council’s audit committee (an outside accountant rather than an elected councillor) presented his report.
He said that regardless of setting up these separate third-party organisations, it would be “the same people, doing the same job” and asked “how on earth does that produce savings…..the answer is simple, it doesn’t!” and went on to say that “I can’t tell you how it will work”.
He also raised concerns about how the whole financial process will work because financial controls will be separated across lots of different organisations now each having their own systems. This he argues, would increase the risk of serious fraud with those who want to do the wrong thing having greater opportunity.
He said there were “huge risks” which the audit committee had raised and was concerned that the resources available to financial auditing had been cut by 20% when actually more money would be needed if the council goes ahead with its plans.
I got the impression that senior members of the administration weren’t particularly pleased with his comments but the advantage of having an independent and professional chair of the committee is that you get an independent and profession opinion.
….The big question is whether the council will listen to that opinion.