Northamptonshire County Council budget agreed for 2019/20 as 4.99% council tax rise is confirmed
Councillors agreed to take up an offer from the Government in raising the council tax levels above the usually permitted 2.99 per cent, and the additional sums will bring in an extra £5.8million.
The county council says that the extra income will result in an additional £475,000 to permanently reinstate the previous winter gritting and winter maintenance of roads, and an extra £1.2million for its children’s services.
It will see the average Band D property in the county pay £1,236.10 a year. The county council has been unable to increase its adult social care precept, however, as it has already increased this by six per cent over the last two financial years.
The budget also sees £23.1million in efficiency savings in adult social services, and £10.3million from children’s services.
Opposition councillors refused to back the budget though after a Liberal Democrat amendment to give staff a two per cent salary increase was refused by the Conservative administration.
Conservative leader Matt Golby said the setting of this budget brought to an end ‘the single most challenging financial year in the history of the council’ and had stabilised since its ‘darkest hour’ last year when a section 114 notice was ordered banning new expenditure.
He said: “The financial struggles we have gone through have been reported across the globe. The great name of this council has been used in a negative way to highlight poor finances. But today we are drawing a line under that, and will instill public pride back into this county.
“This budget moves us on in terms of sustainability as we move forwards towards the unitary authorities. It marks a significant new chapter and it’s time to stop talking the council down and focus on how we have stabilised finances since those dark hours last year.”
The Conservatives also said that the budget includes investment in Adult Social Care centres and homes to provide new accommodation and services for older people, those with learning disabilities and mental health requirements to increase capacity and therefore reduce the reliance on costly external placements.
But Labour councillor Mick Scrimshaw, the chair of the overview and scrutiny committee, said that the budget was more of a ‘financial prayer than a proper plan’ and that the party could not support it when it had "so many holes" in it.
He said: “By setting this fragile and shaky budget today the council will effectively be simply going through a tick-box exercise to meet their legal requirements, and I suspect the work on how this council gets through the next financial year will start in earnest next week, but I predict that within the first month or two of the new financial year cabinet will already be getting reports of budget slippage.
“It’s a Conservative budget, hoping to deal with a Conservative mess brought on by Conservative decisions and Conservative policies.”
As well as the Government approving the extra council tax rise, it also allowed the county council to use £70million of its capital funds for its revenue budget, a move unprecedented in local government.
This allowed the council to wipe out its £39.7m deficit from 2017/18, put £20million back into its depleted reserves and allow for any contingencies.
Liberal Democrat councillor Dennis Meredith referred to this when he said: “Don’t go crowing about how this budget is good when you’ve been helped out by your mates at Westminster.”
But Councillor Longley said the decision had been "a vote of confidence" from the Government that the county council was getting "back on track".
He also confirmed that they were "expecting" to balance the in-year budget for 2018/19, but still had £1.4million of savings to find before the end of the financial year. He said he would "not make promises" that the in-year budget would definitely balance.