Commissioners at Northamptonshire CC are considering applying to the government for a “capitalisation dispensation” which will allow it to use its capital budget to eliminate its unfunded deficit of £35m last financial year.
Amid fears raised by auditor KPMG that the council may have delivered an illegal budget for 2017-18, commissioners Tony McArdle and Brian Roberts are reportedly “exploring a number of options” to close last year’s deficit, according to a report published by the council today.
These include requesting that the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government allows the council to use its capital reserves to plug a revenue deficit of £35m in 2017-18.
The council is seeking to balance its books for the current financial year. Savings already announced are set to reduce a previously projected overspend of £30m by £10m.
The council report also details an additional £20m in savings to help balance the books for the current financial year.
Council leader Matt Golby (Con) said: “These are unprecedented times for us and as such we need a robust plan to address the financial challenges we now face.
“The stabilisation plan published today alongside our latest financial reports show how we are now moving firmly towards stabilising our budget position.
“However we are of course acutely aware that the challenge to deliver this plan is significant and as such we will now focus all our energy on doing so.”
According to the report, the new stabilisation plan “does not deal with the unfunded deficit of £35m at the end of the financial year 2017-18”.
Among the many “amendments” that are presented in the report, include cuts to highways funding totalling £350,000 for the current financial year. These cuts would reduce the amount of roads receiving “precautionary” gritting from 43% of the network to around 32%.
The plan also details possible savings of £1.7m through more integrated commissioning in areas of “duplicated effort” across health and adult social care.
In an attempt to increase the county’s income, Local Government Shared Services (LGSS), the shared services organisation joint-owned by Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire CCs and Milton Keynes Council, is exploring the possibility of “raising the council tax base and optimising the collection of both council tax and business rates”.
LGSS is already working with borough and district councils to review who receives the single persons discount of 25% on council tax bills in an attempt to reduce fraud. This is expected to increase takings by £3.3m over the 2015-17 period.
The report also recommends a reduction in agency social workers, proposing the “logical step” of transitioning more social workers from temporary to permanent, while noting the department “continue[s] to lose permanent, experienced staff”.
According to the report, of the 499 qualified social worker positions in children’s services, 141 (27%) are currently filled by agency staff and 57 (11%) are vacant.
* This story was amended at 14.00 on 1 October to remove the claim Northamptonshire is seeking a bailout. This was based on inaccurate information provided by the council itself.