Yesterday, a report ordered by Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid, recommended that Northamptonshire County Council ‘should be scrapped’. But is Northamptonshire’s parlous state due to its own incompetence or is it just the portent of things to come for the future of local government?
Since 2010 local government has been consistent in saying that it has taken a disproportionate reduction in financial support from central government. The Barnet Graph of Doom made it clear that increased demand from adult social services and decreases in central government funding for local government will inevitably lead to disaster unless the issue is addressed, and funding is restored.
The financial collapse of a county council in England is unprecedented. That is the big story. Northamptonshire has historically levied a very low precept and because of the continuation of rate capping it has only limited opportunities to increase its own income. It may have been slow to react to the age of austerity. It may have missed opportunities to reduce costs and increase locally sourced income, but the origin of this disaster is as much in Westminster as it is in Northampton.
Local government has made a valiant attempt to maintain public services in the face of the most stringent cuts the sector has ever experienced. Northamptonshire is not the scandal, it is the disproportionate attack by central government on local government funding that needs to be examined, questioned and ultimately reversed before other democratically elected public bodies fail because of lack of finance and too much central government dictate.
The attack by central government on Northampton might have been more palatable if that part of the governance of England had received the same level of cuts and a similar reduction in staffing but that is not the case.
Who will defend Northamptonshire?
Steve Winterflood is a PhD student at INLOGOV, researching measures of local government authority. Steve worked for many years in local government and is former Chief Executive of South Staffordshire Council.