Northamptonshire county council (NCC) is teetering on the edge of complete disaster, leaving lives at risk.
Almost a decade of austerity, and mismanagement at the top of the Tory-run council mean it’s had to declare itself insolvent. This will mean hundreds of job cuts, and slashing of vital public services.
And NCC says from now on it will be only able to deliver “core” services that it is legally obligated to fulfil.
For example, child protection and some aspects of adult social care will still be provided, although they will suffer huge cuts.
The Tory-run council—which serves almost 700,000 people—needs an extra £70 million by March to keep functioning. It has exhausted its reserves—the fund that local authorities maintain for emergencies.
This year the council has issued two section 114 notices, which ban spending at the council. This is an extraordinary measure for a local authority to take—only two of these notices had previously been issued in the UK since 1988.
An emergency council meeting was called on Wednesday to discuss plans for saving some cash.
Tory council leader Matt Golby used the meeting to ask for a “behaviour change” in local communities “to create resilience in places where the council can no longer step in”.
But NCC hasn’t run out of funding because of the behaviour of ordinary people, and they shouldn’t be made to pay the price.
The crisis is a result of Tory austerity which has seen local authorities robbed of the cash they need to function.
Some £16 billion has been stripped from councils in England in just eight years.
Penny Smith, Unison NCC branch secretary said, “The county council is once again letting the most vulnerable people in the county down, and putting their health and wellbeing at risk.
“This has now gone too far. The council is at risk of failing to keep children and vulnerable people safe. This could cost lives.”
NCC is the first council to go into such financial measures, but it is unlikely to be the last.
The National Audit Office said that one in 10 councils will have exhausted their reserves in three years, with the number doubling two years after that.
NCC is so desperate for cash they had to sell their new headquarters building—despite only moving into it in October last year. They are now renting it back from the Canadian investment firm they palmed it off on.
Theresa May’s government insists that councils have to make sure their council budgets balance, while at the same time cutting funding from Westminster.
This leaves councils trying to fulfil the needs of an ageing population, and spiralling social care costs, while having a smaller income.
In the short-term, NCC should be properly resourced to ensure that important social services are able to function. But a national catastrophe is on the horizon if the Tories continue with their punishing austerity agenda of cuts, privatisation and misery.
We need to kick the Tories out for good, and join the battle to build and maintain properly-run public services.