Public health brought back under the direct control of the County Council and away from a separate company

By Mick Scrimshaw on March 14, 2018

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Yesterday at Northampton County Council’s (NCC) Cabinet meeting another nail was hammered into the coffin of the Council’s discredited outsourcing model of "Next Generation Council".

For five or six years the Council have blindly followed a dream of outsourcing all of its services to separated federated bodies. These bodies operate outside of the direct control of the Council. This is despite opposition from a variety of sources, and a lack of evidence or planning to show how the new system would work or show any benefit.

This new way of working was supposed to solve the Council’s financial problems by making efficiency savings and bring in extra revenue and it was hailed as an imaginative new way of working with Conservative Councillors speaking of how proud they were that NCC was "leading the way for councils' across the country". Instead, it cost tens of millions of pounds with the only winners seemingly the expensive consultants and lawyers employed to set-up the various bodies.

In 2015 a Community Interest Company was set up between NCC, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Trust and the University of Northampton called "First for Wellbeing" to deliver all of the Council’s public health obligations, including the running of the County’s library network.

After severe criticism from a number of sources including the Local Government Association, who said among other things, "The cost and benefits have not been articulated and approved and we found no evidence of fully worked business cases," yesterday the Council’s Cabinet of nine leading councillors agreed to serve notice on the new organisation and bring the services it offered back "in-house".

To applause from the public gallery, Labour councillor Eileen Hales, a long time critic of the model, said “What a sad state of affairs and what an expensive lesson you have learnt”. The report passed by the Cabinet yesterday highlighted that once again the Council’s partnership working with others had failed, and went on to say that "External auditors from both Public Health England and KPMG have suggested that the use of federated vehicles does not represent value for money adding potential complexity and cost".

Despite these criticisms and an acceptance that bringing the service back directly under the control of the Council was "better value for money in relation to a reduced senior management, governance and administrative structure", Conservative councillors bizarrely still tried to justify the failed experiment with the Portfolio Holder for Finance saying that "strategically it was the right thing to do, even though it had gone wrong" and the Council’s leadership (he was the Cabinet Member in charge of the project at the time), "should be congratulated".

All opposition parties welcomed the decision to move away from Next Generation model, as the Northamptonshire public will get a much better deal in future, a view seemingly accepted by everyone and now at last, belatedly, even with some Conservative Councillors.

Mick Scrimshaw is the Leader of the Labour Group at Kettering Borough Council, the Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance at Northamptonshire County Council. He has a public record of standing up for Kettering as a County Councillor for the Northall division in Kettering, Northants and since May 2015, a Borough Councillor for the William Knibb ward. He is a keen cyclist and also runs a family business with his wife.

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