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Troubled county's leader resigns after 'vicious attacks' from MPs

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The leader of Northamptonshire CC has resigned with immediate effect, following the publication of a highly critical inspection report into the council’s governance.

While it had “not been an easy decision” Heather Smith (Con) said the “the personal pressure of vicious public attacks by four local MPs” and the pressure from central government meant her position had become untenable.

Cllr Smith also cast doubt on whether the savings planned in 2018-19 would help to ensure the council meets its statutory obligations.

She said: “The personal pressure of vicious public attacks by four local MPs seeking to make me the scapegoat, has not been pleasant for anyone to witness.

“I have continued to fight for fairer funding for Northamptonshire residents, in spite of the personal attacks.

“As I was told a few days ago, ‘if the machinery of government is turned against you, you cannot win’.”

LGC reported last month how a group of local MPs said in a joint statement that Northamptonshire CC’s financial problems were “self-inflicted” due to an inability to balance the books.

In a short speech lasting less than five minutes with no subsequent questions, Cllr Smith said responsibility for the council’s financial problems lay at the door of government as the council had been unable to meet the “spiralling costs of social care”.

In February Northamptonshire became the first council in almost two decades to issue a section 114 notice, which imposed immediate spending controls on the local authority. Two weeks ago the county council passed its budget after having to find extra savings for 2018-19 following a warning from auditors about an over-reliance on propping up budgets using capital receipts.

“The country is watching what is happening to us,” Cllr Smith said. “I do not believe these changes [cost-cutting plans announced in the budget] will amount to the £50m a year that is needed to meet our statutory obligations.”

Cllr Smith urged the monitoring officer and chairman to “get on” with selecting a new leader “without further delay”.

The inspector Max Caller’s report found the county council had “repeatedly” failed to spot spending pressures - and budget for them effectively in its medium-term financial plans. The inspector said in the report the county council “didn’t understand the difference between spending where there is a choice and what is truly inescapable”.

A spokesperson for the council said it accepted the findings of the inspection report and would respond to the secretary of state “within the coming days”.

Deputy leader Matthew Golby (Con) said: “While I am pleased the report recognises the hard work and dedication of the staff and recognises recent progress in financial management it is clear that the inspector has found what he believes to be significant failings at the council.

“We accept the findings and we will now be acting accordingly and responding directly to the secretary of state.

“While we will make these points in our response, we should in no way hide away from the general thrust of this report.”

A video of Cllr Smith’s speech was made by the Northampton Chronicle and can be seen here.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • Vicious not viscous perhaps?

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  • We should not forget that councils have been miles better than central government in recent years at managing their budgets, finding efficiencies and planning for the future. Central government gets away with a lot more mismanagement and waste because they have capacity to tax, borrow and print money.

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