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Threat of judicial review over cuts to library services looms

Updated: Northants passes budget as leader loses no confidence vote

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Northamptonshire CC’s leader Heather Smith has reportedly lost a vote of no confidence among her Conservative group – but still remains the council’s leader.

The vote took place among the local Conservative group last night ahead of today’s crunch meeting of full council to set the authority’s budget.

Cllr Smith remains leader despite the vote. According to the BBC Northampton’s politics reporter Sam Read, Cllr Smith cannot face a no confidence vote at today’s full council meeting because a similar motion was tabled late last year.

“You can’t have the same motion put before full council twice in six months,” he wrote on Twitter.

LGC reported yesterday how an extra £10m cuts had been found by removing all bus subsidies, imposing a 42% reduction in funding for trading standards, and ending council-run library provision at 21 sites.

At this morning’s meeting of full council members were told a pre-action letter has already been submitted to the council threatening a judicial review into the proposed cuts to library services.

Speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrat group Chris Stanbra warned the county council’s library service will not be “comprehensive”.

Under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 local authorities have a statutory duty “to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons” in an area.

One Conservative backbencher on the council, Jason Smithers, tweeted: “I’m getting the feeling that this council is bankrupt morally and financially. Possible judicial review of budget could cost more than the savings of closing a few libraries.”

Cabinet member for finance Robin Brown (Con) told today’s meeting that until the housing and communities secretary allows local authorities to set their own council tax levels without referendum limits imposed on them “this will continue to be a major problem” in terms of councils being able to balance their budgets. Northamptonshire is proposing to raise council tax by 5.98% in 2018-19, including 3% for the social care precept.

Cllr Brown said he is “very unlikely” to be presenting the budget next year but warned whoever does will have the same problems unless they can find the “magic formula” for more money.

Following a debate which lasted more than four hours, the county council’s budget was passed with 35 voting for it, 13 against, while one councillor abstained.

Speaking ahead of the meeting shadow communities and local government secretary Andrew Gwynne said: “The government can no longer ignore the crisis in Northamptonshire CC.”

He urged the government to “send in commissioners to take over the running of the council” and added: “The crisis in NCC is a perfect storm of local mismanagement and neglect from central government.”

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