Northants cuts: Rural bus subsidies could be lost plus libraries to be reviewed

County Council leader Councillor Heather Smith.
County Council leader Councillor Heather Smith.

Rural bus routes, libraries, road maintenance and gritting and Trading Standards in Northamptonshire are all set for cuts as part of £9.6m in savings announced by the county council yesterday (Monday, October 16).

The authority is set to approve starting consultation on the latest round of cutbacks at Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet meeting on Thursday.

However, the measures, which will come into action from the next financial year, are only a prelude to a far greater series of cuts due to be announced in December.

The budget savings include a review of libraries, changes to the highways maintenance programme, a reduction in funding for Trading Standards and the removal of bus subsidies meaning some rural routes could be lost.

County council leader Cllr Heather Smith (Con, Oundle) said: “There is no denying that there are difficult decisions to be made, and the proposals we have before us will undoubtedly have an impact on local communities.

“Therefore, what we are looking to do with some of these proposals is gauge what role local communities themselves could have in the running of these services.

“Like all public sector organisations in Northamptonshire, we are finding it increasingly difficult to protect frontline services and, without an increase in government funding, we are faced with no choice but to review some of our discretionary services as we work to deliver a balanced budget.”

The proposals due to be discussed by cabinet this week also include savings achieved by converting children’s services agency workers into permanent staff, removing the empowering councillors fund and reducing the council’s spend on consultant fees.

Highways services could take a big hit under the proposals, however.

The council will consider whether to reduce all of the subsidies it pays to public transport in the county, including bus routes in rural areas.

This will also include the money it pays towards Call Connect and County Connect services.

The future of up to 28 libraries are also under threat from cuts, with libraries in Woodford Halse and Middleton Cheney most at danger of being closed down.

Northants county council has proposed three options to save money, with option one allowing Woodford Halse and Middleton Cheney libraries being offered to external organisations to run.

Options two and three would see both libraries close, and option three would also see Brackley Library close its doors.

All libraries across the county were shut yesterday so staff could be informed of the proposals.

Councillor Sylvia Hughes (Con, Irthlingborough) said the preferred option would be to see 21 smaller libraries taken over by community groups – even though cabinet papers show the council would save around £1m more with option three.

“Faced with significant funding pressures, we have no option but to review the current model for Northamptonshire libraries,” she said.

“We are committed to maintaining a library service that continues to serve the most people who borrow items and those who use the library for other services, such as computer workshops, registration services and access to borough and district council services.”

The opposition Labour group called the library cuts a ‘dark day’ for the county council.

The council will also look at strimming £475,000 from its winter gritting schedule by reducing the amount of roads it treats by 11 per cent.

It could also greatly reduce the amount of maintenance – such as weed-killing – carried out on the side of roads.

The county’s Trading Standards department, which enforces illegal tobacco sales and clamps down on rogue traders, is in line to have its workforce slashed by half.

Opposition councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Abington and Phiippsville) said the cuts show Northamptonshire’s MPs need to be doing more to attract funding to the county.

“Much of the county is fairly rural and so the removal of all remaining bus subsidies is going to be damaging for those who will have to dig deeper in their pockets for the higher fares,” she said.

“Trading Standards do a great job but this service is going to be put at risk as almost half its staff could be made redundant soon.

“When you think the whole of Northamptonshire is represented by Conservative MPs, what have they done to get us a fairer funding deal?

“The Secretary of State of Local Government, Savid Javid, came to visit last week but the administration didn’t get a single penny from it.”

The Cabinet meeting will take place at 2pm on Thursday at County Hall.