It was publically announced on Wednesday that a peer review of the County Council's financial position has just been undertaken by the Local Government association (there is a link below if you would like to read it for yourself).
The Executive Summary points out that in recent years the Council have sought to make significant savings in response to reductions in funding, but many shortfalls in achieving this has been the norm in the last few years. Reserves and balances have been used to ensure the accounts have a viable position and the point is made that time is running out for Northamptonshire County Council. The scale of savings needed for the next financial year are substantial even after further use of reserves and selling off assets to raise cash have been taken into effect.
They found that the Council is focused in its short term survival and thereafter the financial position looks very serious.
The peer team got the sense that the Council is banking on the Government to bail it out because, it believes, other councils find themselves in a similar position.
They commented that the Council’s future financial plans appear to be built around a very optimistic bias as what can be achieved through their Next Generation Council model but “the degree of reliance on savings from [this] requires close questioning as recent experience does not suggest that plans will be delivered”.
The peer team found there to be a lack of overall understanding and confidence within the Council, at both officer and member level, in the Next Generation Council model because of many things; but not least “The costs and benefits have not been articulated...and we found no evidence of fully worked business cases for each of the key strands...”
This view from the expert team vindicates What I and my Labour colleagues have been saying for a number of years. They are exactly the points I put across to the Council’s cabinet only this week in response to both the latest quarterly finance report (which projects on annual overspend of £12m in this financial year) and in the report about some of the proposals for next year including cuts to libraries which I said “reeked of desperation”.
The report goes on to state they have a historic problem of non-delivery which is having a culminating effect on their financial position.
As if all that isn’t damming enough, one of the key recommendations is that the political leadership needs to be more involved on the detail of the budget and the core business of the Council. In other words the Councillors' elected to run the Council are not only not doing it; they are seemingly not even trying hard enough or don’t have the required understanding of what to do.
If you would like to read the full report yourself, click here.