As many readers will be aware, I have been saying publicly since October 2017 that I do not have confidence in the Leadership of Northamptonshire County Council.
Over the nearly eight years I have been MP for Northampton North I have been proud of my efforts to secure more funding for Northamptonshire County Council.
One of the ways my support has helped is that, thanks to my personal work, campaigning and lobbying of Government, some £5 million of extra money has been allocated to the Highways Department of Northamptonshire County Council during my time as the MP for Northampton North.
This has happened following my extensive lobbying over a period of many months when some £3.23 million was first allocated to Northamptonshire as a one-off sum to deal with the blight of potholes on our roads. In the following year a National Pothole Fund was created by the Government, again following my lobbying, and that Fund has seen Northamptonshire benefit over the past couple of years to the tune of a further £1.5 million. I have been mentioned in two Budget speeches in the House of Commons by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for my work in this regard.
However I cannot support the current Leadership of the County Council.
There have been damning reports by the Local Government Association and by independent external auditors. Then last week NCC activated Section 114 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988 which freezes spending on anything other than statutory services.
I do not accept that this state of affairs is the fault of central Government; none of the seven MPs in our county accept that. Recently backbench County Councillors have endorsed this view in a public statement.
The report by the Local Government Association last year highlighted several problems with NCC, stating amongst other things that they were heading towards “major financial problems” and that the “leadership needs to be more involved”.
The Leadership does not have my confidence, or the confidence of any of the other Northamptonshire MPs.
I take my duties to my constituents very seriously and I am deeply concerned about the County Council’s finances and their ability to maintain services which are essential to many of my constituents- and particularly those who are vulnerable.
In recent months I have organised and held meetings with the other Northamptonshire MPs to discuss the situation about the County Council as we all have serious concerns for our constituents.
I also have previously organised a group meeting with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, and the other Northamptonshire MPs to discuss the situation.
In recent weeks Sajid Javid MP has rightly appointed an inspector to look into concerns around the financial management at NCC. Under the Local Government Act 1999, the Secretary of State can commission an independent inspection to better understand whether a council is complying with its ‘best value’ duty – a legal requirement to ensure good governance and effective management of resources.
In response to recent announcements, I have called publicly for a change in Leadership; I have been warning about this crisis of confidence in the financial management and governance of Northamptonshire County Council for some time. The appointment of a commissioned investigator by the Government was highly unusual and shows the level of concern.
I remain deeply concerned about the ongoing viability of the Council. The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is right to have launched an investigation and I await the result of the report, which is due on 16th March.