Northamptonshire crisis highlights the need an urgent rethink on local government funding
The disturbing news that Northamptonshire County Council has issued a section 114 notice, banning new expenditure, should act as a wake-up call to the Government that local government austerity has gone too far.
As The Guardian explained over the weekend, a section 114 notice is effectively an admission that a council does not have resources to meet current expenditure, that its financial reserves are depleted and that it has little confidence that it can bring spending under control in the near future.
The Conservative leader of Northamptonshire County Council Heather Smith said the local authority had ‘been in what you might call a perfect storm of huge increases in demand for our services at the same time as significant reductions in funding from central government’, adding that she had repeatedly warned the government about the growing crisis.
It’s important to note that this damning indictment of the situation local government finds itself in after eight years of Tory austerity does not come from a Labour administration, but from the leader of a Conservative county council.
Surely now the Government has to realise that local government cuts have simply gone too far. As Jeremy Corbyn said at Labour’s local government conference in Nottingham this weekend: “Austerity is unleashing chaos across our country, squeezing our local authorities and putting jobs, and the vital services they deliver, at risk.”
The vital services he refers to are services that support many of the most vulnerable in our society. Thanks to austerity, the safety net is threadbare and councils across the country – of all political persuasions – have made it clear that enough is enough.
Council spending power has fallen by almost half since 2010 and, rather than coming up with a sensible and workable plan for areas like social care and children’s services, the Government continues to kick the can down the road.
In Northamptonshire they’ve run out of road and editor of the Local Government Chronicle Nick Golding has warned that other councils will follow.
Surely now the time has come for the Government to admit once and for all that austerity is a failed and costly policy.