A cash-strapped local authority in England has approved large and ‘radical’ cuts to jobs and services, during a crisis meeting set up to tackle a funding shortfall of £70 million.
Northamptonshire County Council backed the action plan to reduce spending today, with children’s services, adult social care and other vital services set to bear the burden of cuts.
The Conservative-led authority has imposed spending cuts twice in six months. The government sent in commissioners to run Northamptonshire in April after the authority revealed a projected overspend of £21m for 2017-18.
The council has issued a second spending control order to keep a projected budget shortfall of £60-£70 million at bay for this financial year.
An “action plan”, which council members voted on today included “rigorous controls on spending, recruitment and contracts” according to leader Matthew Golby.
The authority will now have to work out what impact these cuts will have on individual services and jobs.
‘Catastrophic’ Consequences for Vulnerable Children
Image Credit: Jacob Edward
Last week, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, raised concerns over Northampton’s financial crisis, saying it would have “catastrophic consequences” for some children, highlighting work carried out with the Institute for Fiscal Studies which showed that half of all the spending on children’s services goes on the 73,000 children who are in care.
Conservative MP Chris Philip, ministerial aide to Communities Secretary James Brokenshire, claimed that councils were actually getting more money.
He said that the National Audit Office report in March showed that “real terms spending on children’s services has gone up by about 3 percent”, and that over the next two financial years, the “spending power” that local councils were being given “is going to go up by about £2bn” in real terms.
The Human Rights Act (1998), which incorporates the Human Rights Convention into UK law, and the Children and Families Act (2014) protect the rights of the child in the UK. The UK has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is therefore bound to implement its terms, such as the right to life, survival and development (article 6). This means that states must take steps to ensure that children survive and develop to their full potential.
Responding to the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns, a Department for Education spokeswoman stressed that nothing is more important than ensuring that children are kept safe.
“Northamptonshire County Council – like all councils – has statutory duties towards children which they must fulfil,” she said, adding that the department was already working with the council to improve its children’s social care services.
Very Difficult Decisions
Northamptonshire County Council. Image Credit: Google Street View/Google Maps
During the council meeting today, Chief Finance Officer Mark McLaughlin told members that the council “cannot continue to spend money it doesn’t have”. He admitted that some previous actions were “clearly wrong”, but claimed that the challenge could be “turned into a success”.
Labour group leader Bob Scott called past decisions “catastrophic”, saying that his group would not be voting to “harm the people of Northamptonshire”.
The local authority’s leader, Conservative Matt Golby, said balancing the county’s books would require “some very difficult decisions,” but that the council would meet their “statutory duties”.
“We’re not putting anyone at risk,” he said, “We’re not going to give up.”
Other Areas Also at Risk
Local councils across the UK have responsibility for delivering crucial services that protect our human rights, including children’s services, elderly care and health services.
Though Northamptonshire is so far the only authority to have formally declared itself at risk of a serious financial crisis, other councils in England are facing similar issues, with East Sussex planning to cut services to a legal minimum.
Here at county hall for the second in a series of three Northamptonshire County Council meetings to decide how to save £60-£70m this year. Protestors outside are making sure their voices are heard again. pic.twitter.com/k6Df3pZ6E3
— Kate Cronin (@Katie_Cronin) August 9, 2018
The National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that as many as one in 10 larger local authorities across the country with responsibility for social care are “draining their reserves” and, without significant reform, will have exhausted them completely within three years.
It’s projected that another one in 10 would run out within five years.
Research released by the County Council Network (CCN) in June suggested England’s 37 local authorities, which are responsible for providing services to 26 million people, face funding pressures totalling £3.2bn over the next two years.