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Council's financial culture slammed

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Northamptonshire CC has introduced a more rigorous system for vetting its budget following damning criticisms of the authority’s culture in a report by troubleshooter Bill Roots.

The former Westminster City Council chief executive was called in earlier this year after a series of financial problems came to light.

His report was sent to LGC under freedom of information legislation.

Mr Roots recommended an overhaul of the council’s culture after he said he was repeatedly told that finance officers felt they lacked the clout to press through essential changes.

“Unless the culture is changed the effort put into modern systems will not achieve what the council wants,” Mr Roots warned.

He said the lack of effective business planning and performance management had led to “a classic example of finance officers knowing what is needed but being unable to deliver”. Northamptonshire’s budgeting was short term, lacked rigour and used unspecified reductions to bridge gaps, he found.

Mr Roots called for a ‘star chamber’ process, where cabinet members challenged all spending plans. This process was used by the government in the 1980s to keep a lid on public spending.

“Adoption of a ‘star chamber’ would involve members in fully assessing the scope and impact of [budget] proposals,” Mr Roots said.

He also criticised the council’s ‘silo’ culture, budget holders’ financial management skills and a policy that some services were never internally audited.

Mr Roots was called in by Northamptonshire’s new chief executive Katherine Kerswell after it was forced into a restructuring that saw 150 jobs go, a£3m overspend (LGC - 7/02/08) and cuts to the capital programme resulting from the credit crunch.

A council spokesperson said Mr Roots had given an overview of problems and the authority had since “implemented the majority of recommendations identified in the report, including adopting a ‘star chamber’ process designed to allow us to review progress”.

Later stages of the ‘chamber’ would judge the allocation of resources against priorities.

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