Friday Brief: New council issues financial alert
Plus concern Northants police may not meet its officer target and some events for the weekend
West Northamptonshire Council has written to all staff and councillors to warn of financial pressures which could lead to a budget shortfall of as much as £10m.
The council says it's ‘taking precautionary steps to deal with a fresh wave of significant financial challenges emerging as issues for many local authorities from the continuing cost of living crisis and lasting impacts of the Covid pandemic.’ It will bring in spending controls and make some budget cuts, which will most likely involve reducing some services.
Just 18 months after the unitary authority was set up following the financial crisis at the previous county council, WNC says it is facing an unpredicted shortfall in the current budget and expects further pressures in the next financial year.
It says rising inflation rates which are driving up council running costs, construction costs and the cost of services that the council buys, the ongoing impact of Covid on income and the demand for services are contributing to the situation.
The financial pressures are most evident in the departments dealing with children in care, vulnerable adults and people in need of temporary accommodation.
The council was set up in April last year on government orders after the financial collapse of the Conservative run authority in 2018.
More details are due to be given to the council’s Corporate, Overview and Scrutiny Committee which is due to meet on September 17th and at the next cabinet meeting on September 23rd.
Cllr Malcolm Longley, cabinet member for finance said:
“Having initially balanced the books in our first year, stabilising services and progressing towards post-pandemic recovery, we find ourselves facing a fresh wave of financial challenges which no-one could have predicted. We are not alone in this, with many other councils finding themselves in a similar, if not worse position and we need to act now to start addressing the scale of the challenge ahead in ways that protect services as a priority.
"We have managed our finances robustly and prudently, learning lessons from the legacy of the previous local authorities and we will build on this strong start and act now to tackle these emerging pressures head on.
"A financial review is under way across the authority and we’re putting tighter spending controls in place as early as possible to help mitigate these issues. We will also be looking at additional ways we can work more efficiently and differently to help save money and our staff will be playing an important role in supporting this work."
A senior member of the police commissioner’s team has voiced concerns the long held pledge by the commissioner to increase officer numbers to 1500 by next March may not be met.
Police Commissioner Stephen Mold made the promise again this spring when he raised the police precept by £10 for the year ahead.
At that time a press release put out by his office said there were 1460 officers, up from a low of 1170 six years ago, and said the increase would ensure the force was able to employ the extra officers as the public had said they wanted more visible policing.
However at the most recent August police accountability board, at which the commissioner holds to account the Chief Constable Nick Adderley, the commissioner’s director for delivery Paul Fell, expressed concern the target was ‘under pressure from higher-than-expected drop-out rates and the current level of officer attrition.’
Minutes from the meeting report that:
“PF advised that whilst he had a level of confidence that the force will hit the uplift requirement by January 2023, modelling of future attrition means the force will dip below establishment from April onwards. This will impact on the Commissioners precept commitment.
“In addition, PF cautioned that unless new applicants are in the recruitment cycle by November 2022 that won’t be in by March 2023.
“The Chief Constable agreed to take this away and review.”
NN Journal asked the force for the current number of officers and they said it stood at 1458 at the end of July. They said there was a 1480 home office target figure to hit by next March and the commissioner’s higher pledge.
A spokesperson said:
“We have intakes of officers planned in for the rest of the year, with approximately 200 still to join and are currently estimating that we will reach this target by November 2022 and overtake it for the rest of the financial year.”
They said that in the year 2019/20 85 police officers were recruited, 147 the year after and 191 in the 2021/22 year. Since April 46 officers have been recruited. Departure numbers were not provided.
At the accountability meeting the commissioner also questioned why the overtime pay was increasing and an issue with spending more on maintenance of the force’s fleet due to issues with the BMW X5 was highlighted, with the commissioner having been asked by the organisation that supplies the vehicles to consider legal action.
Read the minutes in full here.
News in brief
The charity commission will not take any action against popular attraction Wicksteed Park following a complaint by former trustees.
In February NN Journal exclusively revealed that four former trustees had blown the whistle to the watchdog over concerns how the charity was operating. The complaints were made in advance of the ticket fiasco last year which saw a promoter used by Wicksteed go bust leaving many residents heavily out of pocket.
As reported by the Northants Telegraph the charity commission has decided not to sanction the Wicksteed charity and instead has offered regulatory advice. Read the story in full here.
Extinction Rebellion is holding a protest in Wellingborough on Wednesday amid growing concerns over energy costs. The group says it is highlighting the need for all homes and public buildings to be insulated, for solar panels to be made compulsory on all new houses and warehousing developments, to end dependency on carbon-based products and to raise support for the national campaign about the rising cost of living "Enough is Enough!".
🍔 Street Food pop up event is taking place tomorrow at East Carlton Country park from midday to 9pm. There will be live music alongside the food and the event is free.
🚘 A transport festival is on throughout the day in Raunds on Saturday. Head towards the square from 12pm for live music, stalls and a range of vehicles on display in the centre of town.
🎤There will be acoustic music from Michael Green at the Hopmaster General on College Street in Rushden on Saturday from 9pm
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