As a proud resident of Northamptonshire, I have been closely watching the events at the county council unfold. We, those in the county that take an interest, have felt that bankruptcy is only a question of time. The announcement of a section 114 notice banning all new spending suggests that our predictions will come true.
The Tory councillors currently in charge won the County Council Elections in May 2017 with 45.54% of the vote share. The turnout was 33.7%, which means they were in fact elected by only 17% of the eligible voters.
Voter apathy in Northants is a consequence of the residents feeling ignored for years. few actually know what a county council does or could do; they expect nothing and take no interest in it. Northants county council has been controlled by the Tories for 13 years. A whole generation has no idea what a Labour-controlled council would aspire to provide for the communities.
If they know the vision, they have no belief it can be put into practice because the local Tories constantly criticise Labour’s financial acumen while blaming the lack of funding for the position they find themselves in. The inference is that nobody could do any better – a suggestion that should be vigorously and publicly challenged.
Whilst in control the Tories have made several questionable financial decisions. They oversaw years of frozen Council Tax rates, during the same time period they now claim to have been warning central government of insufficient funding. They raided the savings pot and sold buildings and artefacts to pay for everyday expenses. There is no money and no more assets to sell. Hence the desire, as detailed in the proposed budget of last year, to close and sell off libraries across the county.
The section 114 notice, banning all spending bar statutory provision, was announced on Friday 2nd February. Council leader Heather Smith then used every news outlet that would have her to promote her position, putting all the blame on the government.
The following day, our parliamentary candidates Beth Miller (Corby and East Northanst), Gareth Eales (Northampton South) and Sally Keeble (Northampton North) collectively wrote to the Sajid Javid noting the difficulties are partly from mismanagement and partly from the unfair local government funding formula. Northants CC benefits from one of the lowest per person rates in the country while the government’s programme of austerity has cut its budget. Austerity has failed Northamptonshire residents.
Late on Sunday evening we finally had word from the seven Tory MPs in the county. As predictable as rain in winter, Tory self-interest triumphed. The MPs, many of whom voted for cuts in local government funding, placed all the blame on the councillors. No recognition of the poor deal received by Northamptonshire, nor of the growing population’s changing needs. They cannot admit any fault on behalf of the government because to do so would be to admit austerity, their flagship policy, has failed.
In last year’s general election, in all bar one of the Northamptonshire constituencies, the sitting MPs’ majorities were cut. They are running scared; not wanting to lose their careers, they cannot admit that their actions have negatively impacted on the communities they serve. That the MPs have publicly criticised Tory councillors shows in and of itself their level of concern.
Beth, Gareth and Sally are off to a flying start. They are controlling the narrative. They have not and will not accept the lies being peddled by the Tory MPs. They suggested that commissioners be called in to analyse the whole situation, a suggestion backed by Andrew Gwynne MP, which I hope is followed.
Whether it is local government funding, the NHS or failed outsourcing, the Conservatives are ready to implode. Labour must be ready to pick up the pieces and use each and every failure to demonstrate to the public that austerity is a failed policy helping nobody but the rich.
Diane Boyd is a Labour member in Northamptonshire.