Author: Marion Turner-Hawes
The massive changes in our County have come to pass as a result of Northamptonshire County Council effectively going ‘bankrupt’ earlier this year. And, the Council’s financial position has gone from bad to worse, despite Government Commissioners being appointed to take over a few months ago.
Indeed, even though 7 of the 8 Councils voted to back the proposal to form 2 new Unitaries, there was no evidence from the many consultants' reports produced over the summer that this ‘new model’ would be able to fix the financial pressures Northamptonshire faces.
With Northants County Council needing to save a further £120 millions pounds from a budget of £441 million in the next 18 months, it is very likely both Councils will start life with a massive debt to carry, and a further £70 million pound bill just to bring them into being won't help soften this gap. The Price Waterhouse Cooper (PWC) Report also makes stark reading about both Council’s short or even medium term viability in revenue terms, assuming that is they exist long enough to generate the estimated annual operational savings of £60 million per year.
PWC clearly state there is an operating ‘black hole’ that action will need to be taken to fill and the Government look like the only body in a position to be able to do that. The people of Northants have already been ripped off big time and now our many Councillors across all Councils (except Corby) have thrown their weight behind a plan that any reasonable Board of any decent Company in the land would laugh out of their Boardroom but we, the 745,000 residents of Northants, are expected to accept this as a realistic plan of recovery for the County.
We also have no recourse to challenge the extremely undemocratic nature of evidence on which it was based, where less than 1% of the County’s population (7,000 people from a population of 745,000) responded in any form to the Consultation, and even then a majority of that number (56%) choose to reject the specific idea of having two Unitary Councils. To say many people feel powerless and unheard in our County is an understatement beyond belief, and all the while essential service after essential service continues to fall as NCC cuts deeper and deeper into its budgets this year, with only yesterday funding for the largest advice and support service in the County being withdrawn by the end of this month, just as the arrival of Universal Credit Full Service continues to role out to completion across the County by November 2018.
You will understand my utter sense of dejection as I wrote the letter below after attending an extraordinary meeting of Wellingborough Borough Council. The meeting was called to ask members to decide on the future of local government in Northamptonshire. Councillors were invited to rubber stamp a proposal by a joint ‘Committee’ of Officials from all 8 of the County’s Councils to submit a proposal to the Secretary of State for Local Government to dissolve these Councils and create two new Unitary Councils: North Northants Council and West Northants Council.
28 August 2018
Tonight I feel extremely dis-heartened.
I went to the Wellingborough Borough Council meeting tonight and saw all the Council members vote to disband our Council and hand the control of our local services to people somewhere out there in the ether. People that aren't elected and aren't working for the benefit of local people and communities. Most often they will be administrators that may have a mind to create new entities of vision and hope but more likely these will be new entities that ration services in a penny pinching almost computerised compassion lacking system, just about spreading services and funding thinly on an ever diminishing slice of bread.
Will they come heralding any kind of vision of hope, and at what level could this hope occur. I don't have hope that they will strive to help people consistently in this County, I don't have hope that these creators will ensure that local people and communities play a leading role in creating the new Councils and their democratic systems. I don't have hope that they will come up with open innovative ways for selecting or electing new Councillors for these entities or will work to enable greater community participation in service delivery and provision at all levels. I don't have hope that they will ensure every residents voice is heard, and most importantly I don't have hope that these Councils will actually be able to do what they are set up for, provide good quality local community and essential services, as well as engendering a sprit of ambition, enterprise and creativity in the County to help us all thrive. Put simply, I don't have hope that they will ever do what we need.
The basis under which they are being created will be built on a foundation of suspicion, lies, arrogance, exclusion of opposing voices, abrogation of responsibility and an ‘under arching’ desire by some to break up people, communities, and the common philosophy of working together to meet our needs. The classic divide and rule mentality and work to move as much power as possible into the hands of the smallest number of people as possible to enable them to take control and steer common services away from the people that need and use them towards a handful of big businesses as distant as they can possibly be from local people and communities.
It can not be right that at the very time we as residents will be paying the most we have ever paid for our public services (locally) that we will receive the least services and value for money for our contribution, and this will only get worse. No other business would ever get away with demanding so much money from people and not guaranteeing anything in return.
So no I am not hopeful, this is not a new dawn but rather a new nightmare, and in Northants it will be playing out alongside the other present nightmare which is Brexit. God help us.
But maybe it will be the kick to encourage many of the willing to abandon the present farce of local decision making in this County and instead look to see what else we can create which does embody hope, compassion, fairness, supports aspiration and innovation, and builds real and powerful community empowerment from the grass roots up. A movement which could make present decision-making systems obsolete, is fully participative and not representative and enables us all to be heard equally. Which builds on and embraces ethical morality, and sees through the mud of what support we all need and helps us embrace personal responsibility for our own lives and respect and compassion for each other. A system based on the thriving of All, not survival of the fittest.
This would give me hope, and I hope we will all wake up enough to dream and believe that we can create this. There are so many models from across the U.K. and other Countries where people are doing this, we can draw on these ideas and start to make some of these a reality in our lives and our communities.
Let's make these reactive, unimaginative, mean spirited Councils and Councillors a thing of the past and create community assemblies, community chests, and community trusts to help us realise the true wealth of our communities and of each other.
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Northamptonshire - Abandon Hope All Who Enter © Marion Turner-Hawes 2018.
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