Friday brief: Leading councillor defends West unitary continuing to invest in Qatar
Plus more news from across our county
The cabinet member for finance for West Northamptonshire Council has defended the use of taxpayers money to invest in Qatar.
The issue of the unitary council putting money into the Middle Eastern country has been a hot topic since the Guardian revealed in the run up to last year’s World Cup that the council was one of a number who were ploughing millions into the country. Amnesty International has criticised the practice due to human rights concerns and LGBTQ discrimination in the county.
Last year after the investments were made public, Cllr Longley said the authority would no longer invest in the Qatar State Bank, but it has since come to light through a recent Freedom of Information request by the Northampton Chronicle that the authority is still investing to the sum of £15m.
The matter was brought up by Liberal Democrat deputy leader Cllr Jonathan Harris at the cabinet meeting earlier this week, saying he was ‘baffled’ as to why the authority continues to invest. He said Cllr Longley’s public statement that there had been no opposition to the policy was incorrect, saying that while the Conservative administration that runs the authority had backed the current treasury investment policy, the opposition had not.
“I know from feedback I have had that some of our own council employees are not entirely content with what they read and what they see.”
Cllr Longley responded by saying that while ‘emails abounded’ on the topic, he was not for changing his stance.
He said to Cllr Harris:
“You have clearly got your agenda on this and I respect that. I have my agenda and my agenda is to do whatever I can for the best for people in Northamptonshire in financial terms. I will always do that and if that offends you and your agenda, it is very unfortunate but that is how it is going to be.”
The treasure management report shows that the council has investments worth £138m and borrowing of just under £530m which will be paid back over a 50 year period.
News in brief:
An internal audit report has found issues with how North Northamptonshire Council is managing its government procurement cards. The cards, which act like credit cards, have been given to almost 100 members of staff of the authority and around £1.4m has been spent in each of the financial years the authority has been running.
Internal auditors have found that seven members of staff have never had their purchases reviewed and that ‘currently, there is no defined process for tackling such non-compliance.’
It also found that:
“60% of GPC transactions had not been approved by managers in the period April 2022 to May 2023. This includes transactions that could not be approved as they had not been reviewed by the cardholder. This equates to 3,321 transactions, valued at approximately £474k.”
Auditors have given a limited assurance of compliance regarding this issue.
There has been another serious stabbing on the Northampton road where a teenager was killed earlier this year.
Police were called to the incident on the A508 Harborough Road at about 2.45pm and found a man in his 30s who had been stabbed in his chest and hand. He was taken to hospital and is reported to be in a serious condition.
The incident comes six months after the death of Rohan ‘Fred’ Shand, 16, who was attacked close to the Cock Hotel as he walked home from school in March. He died at the scene and a 15 year old boy was found guilty of his murder in August.
Anyone with information about yesterday’s stabbing has been asked to call Northamptonshire Police on 101 and quote incident 293.
The finance cabinet member for West Northamptonshire Council, Cllr Malcolm Longley is going to sit on the finance board of the children’s trust which runs social services in Northamptonshire.
At a meeting of the WNC cabinet this week Cllr Longley said the trust, which was set up in 2021 on government orders, needed financial support. ‘They lack resources in that area’ he said.
The service is currently predicted to run £25m over its budget, a cost which will be shared proportionately between the two unitary councils.
Leader of the Labour opposition, Cllr Wendy Randall voiced concern about the finances, as the authority is pulling £8.2m out of budget contingency reserves to plug the gap.
“If we continue on like that, how will it be before we’re bankrupt?
The group will be making the children’s trust and its overspend the focus of its business at next week’s council meeting.
Deputy Labour leader Bob Purser said:
“I think excessive profits are being made by some of our providers.”
Cllr Longley responded to the questions by saying:
“Is it that we have given them enough money in the first place, or is it they are not managing the money properly? I don't know and I’m going to find out.”
The overspend is largely due to the cost of placements. Almost all are provided by private companies.
The unitary council’s predecessor, Northamptonshire County Council, was the first to go bankrupt in 2018 and has since been followed by other authorities.
In recent years the conservative government has made cuts to funding as part of its austerity programme, with many services now over budget and regular council tax rises being imposed to cover the growing costs.
MP for South Northamptonshire Andrea Leadsom made a claim in parliament this week that her constituency ‘looks like an industrial’ estate due to the ongoing HS2 rail project.
A Sheffield MP had asked the government an urgent question on the project, which will link London to the North West of England, with the first phase involving a 12 mile stretch through Northamptonshire.
During the session Leadsom said:
“My constituents have been through absolute misery for 13 years now, ever since the hybrid Bill first started and they tried to defend their own area. Unfortunately, HS2 has not provided continuity of support, has not provided good customer liaison and has not provided proper compensation. People have been made miserable, and their mental health has been severely damaged by this project. They deserve the right answer: is this project going ahead or is it not? My constituency looks like an industrial site right now.”
For many years there have been questions about the spiralling cost of the project and also protests about the route.
The parliamentary under secretary for transport Richard Holden said:
“Construction continues in earnest, with about 350 active construction sites, and we are getting on with delivery, with high-speed rail services between London and Birmingham Curzon Street due to commence in 2033, with the re-scoped stages following. This will specifically drive the regeneration of 1,600 acres, delivering 40,000 homes and supporting 65,000 jobs in outer London.”
🍧 The Northamptonshire Good Food and Drink Festival is happening on Sunday at Kettering Park Hotel from 11am. Entry is free.
🎭 The Paulerspury players are staging Without A clue tonight in the Paulerspury village Hall, Towcester from 7pm. Tickets are £15 (contact Sharron on 07789 995172) and include a sausage bap.
🎶 The Belcanto Female Voice Choir is performing at the United Reform Church in Salem Lane, Wellingborough, tomorrow from 7.30pm. Tickets are £12.