Daventry DC has instigated an investigation into an “error” which saw it publicly call for government intervention at Northamptonshire CC.
The district’s leader Chris Millar (Con) said this suggestion contained in a council report, based on the local effects of the county’s parlous finances, had not been intended for publication.
The county’s chief executive Paul Blantern has expressed dismay at the district’s “unprofessionalism” and thought the report was written as a result Northamptonshire’s ambitions to create a county unitary.
In its original form, Daventry’s report for its strategy group meeting on January 12, said it would be an “unusual and indeed undesirable step” for one tier of local government to call for government intervention in another, but “it is suggested that the current circumstances are sufficiently unusual to justify it”.
Cllr Millar said the correct version had been sent on paper to councillors and he discovered the online error only “by chance” on January 11, and ordered its removal.
The correct version is similar in its critical views on Northamptonshire’s finances but omits the section that suggests things are so bad that government intervention is needed.
Chief executive Ian Vincent is holding an investigation into what happened.
Cllr Millar told LGC: “I can appreciate how it may seem from the outside and be attractive to conspiracy theorists but I feel it is far more likely to be just human error which in this instance was doubly unfortunate due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
“I was totally unaware, as was Ian Vincent, that this error had taken place until late Wednesday morning when I was shown by chance an online version of the paper. I immediately requested that this be removed and replaced with the correct paper going to our strategy group.”
Cllr Millar said officers had not had any political steer to advocate intervention and he had apologised to Northamptonshire CC’s leader Heather Smith (Con).
Mr Blantern told LGC that although Northamptonshire had received the apology and the offending document had been removed “that is now rather ‘after the horse has bolted’.” He added: “We are extremely dismayed by this unprofessionalism.”
Mr Blantern said the original paper was “disingenuous [and] bluntly it was done because we have proposed a single unitary”.
He said Northamptonshire intended to wait for the government’s reaction to a similar county unitary proposal in neighbouring Buckinghamshire before deciding how to proceed after May’s local elections.
This, though, remains controversial. Cllr Millar said: “Northamptonshire’s finances are in a dire state. If I thought a county unitary was the right thing to do I wouldn’t stand in the way, but I don’t.”