The former Conservative leader of Northamptonshire CC, who has quit her party, has hit out at the council’s newest and youngest members and defended her administration’s decisions.
In an explosive interview with LGC Heather Smith said she had been made a “scapegoat” for the county council’s financial difficulties and was “so angry” about the way it had all been handled. The interview took place before she announced on Twitter she had resigned from the Conservative party.
The council is seeking to find up to £70m savings on a net revenue budget of £441m this year, with cuts to services for vulnerable children, young people and adults are all being mooted. However, there are concerns the council’s deficit could rise to £180m by 2021.
Cllr Smith, who served as leader between May 2016 and March 2018, said: “Now I’m not saying that mistakes weren’t made in Northamptonshire. I think that if you dig in to any authority you’ll find that mistakes have been made. Our previous chief executive [Paul Blantern] wanted to try something different, but it didn’t work and he lost his job over it.”
Cllr Smith said: “Nobody, not one of them, recognised that when Damon came in as interim finance director he put us into the equivalent of a [section] 114 notice… Nobody is saying how hard he was trying to get money out and to stop spending without formally putting us into the equivalent of a 114 notice.
“Anyone would think we’d done absolutely bugger all for years and it’s just not true.”
When she resigned in March Cllr Smith said she was stepping down due to “the personal pressure of vicious public attacks by four local MPs seeking to make me the scapegoat”.
She said the current administration “will do anything to not upset the MPs” and added: “All I can say is what’s happening in Northamptonshire will come home to roost when there’s a general election and number of those MPs, who’ve done nothing to support Northamptonshire, will lose their jobs.”
In response to Cllr Smith’s comments Northamptonshire leader Matt Golby (Con) said: “We accept the recommendations of the best value inspection report published in March.
“I and my cabinet colleagues are committed to working with the government-appointment commissioners, our county MPs and our borough and district council partners to bring spending under control through our budget recovery programme.”
In February, Cllr Smith lost a vote of no confidence among her Conservative group. Some Conservative councillors have since spoken with LGC to criticise their former leader.
Cllr Smith said many of the “new, younger councillors” are “naive and wet behind the ears” and “slaves to their MPs”.
She said: “Eventually I will go in and I will give them such a bloody mouthful and I will say ‘right, I am now independent because I can’t work with you lot. You haven’t got a clue, you’re just slaves to your MPs [and] you won’t say what is the real issue here and that is insufficient funding’.”
Responding to criticisms, Cllr Smith said: “These kids haven’t got a bloody clue how bloody difficult it’s been for the last few years, trying to get money out and stopping services that we knew were mistakes - stopping services that were for early help and stuff like that, that in the long-term would have had a benefit.
“But we had to stop all sorts of stuff and they think we did - and excuse my language - absolutely fuck all, as though we would just waste money.”
Sam Rumens (Con), a backbencher who was elected in May 2017, said: “All the ‘old guard’ were removed from/resigned from their cabinet posts when the new leader, Matt Golby, was elected to his position.
“Quite frankly, I do not consider the previous administration to be a Conservative one as they acted in a way I would expect [from] no one in our party.
“A fresh start has now truly begun and it will take us a good few years but we will restore our reputation and provide top quality services for residents once more.”