Public hit out at councillors as no firm service cut details come to light

A fiery Northamptonshire County Council meeting shed no further light on the details of unprecedented upcoming cuts to local services.

Members of the public packed the gallery at last night's meeting
Members of the public packed the gallery at last night's meeting

Councillors faced the wrath of the public last night at County Hall, where elected members met to debate on a set of ‘priorities’ that it intends to benchmark service cuts against.

Sixteen angry residents made their views clear in the council chamber, while outside hundreds gathered against the cash-strapped authority prior to the meeting starting.

One speaker, a community nurse, called for a minute’s silence to be observed for those who would be affected by the decisions due to be taken soon.

No financial decisions were taken, however, but they are expected in the upcoming weeks. Instead, it was a night on which some apologies were forthcoming, and council leader Matt Golby - braving calls from some speakers to resign - admitted the journey had started to try to win back the trust of the county’s residents.

Councillor Golby said: “Certainly we have learned lessons and we are trying to be more open and transparent, and of course we have to rebuild the confidence of residents. That starts today.”

The leader, along with his cabinet, will now have to identify up to £70m of savings in this financial year alone.

His paper, which was debated rather than voted on, called on the council to consider five key priorities which included protecting vulnerable people and keeping them safe, as well as ‘engaging with local communities beyond statutory requirements’.

He added that ‘positive’ talks had been held with the county’s district and borough councils to determine where they could potentially step in if the county cannot.

Penny Smith, from Unison, told councillors: "You need to start engaging more and put staff at the top of that priority list. Don't make staff pay for this any more than they have already done so."

Conservative councillors addressed the members of the public, with some apologising on behalf of decisions taken by the Tory administration that had led to the financial crisis.

Councillor Richard Auger said: "I am happy to apologise, there have been some horrendous mistakes made. It's the residents that will be more affected than our political reputations."

Opposition councillors meanwhile criticised what they saw as a lack of detail within the paper being discussed, which they say left residents no further informed as to what services will be cut.

Liberal Democrat councillor Chris Stanbra said: “Cllr Golby asks for constructive criticism, and we will do that, as soon as there's something concrete to comment on.”

Councillor Danielle Stone of Labour asked newly appointed chief executive Theresa Grant, sitting in on her first full meeting, to come back to her with answers on how close the county council was to not being able to fulfil its statutory duties, and what was being done to ensure that ‘the red line isn't crossed’.

It is expected that service directors will now be given up to two weeks to map out their spending and determine whether it meets the thresholds of the ‘priorities’ included in the paper.

More firm proposals are expected to be heard at a cabinet meeting on August 14, but before that councillors will debate on August 9 the issuing of a second Section 114 notice that bans new expenditure.