POLITICS
02/05/2019 12:33 BST | Updated 03/05/2019 08:04 BST

This County Isn’t Voting Today Amid A Local Authority Financial Crisis

District council elections have been postponed in Northamptonshire.

Northamptonshire County Council has certainly seen better days – although those were a while ago.

After years of cuts to services and a selling off of £70million of its assets, financial turmoil has led to today’s planned district and borough council elections being scrapped.

But what does that mean for local residents in the county? And can a county just not vote? 

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Northamptonshire County Council leader Matthew Golby

When Will People Get To Vote?

Voters in the county could potentially have to wait until beyond 2020 to head to the polls.

By then, it is likely that the council will no longer exist, and will have become two new authorities under plans due to come into effect in April 2020.

But even those plans could be delayed because of, you guessed it, Brexit dominating ministers’ time.

How Many Councils Are Affected?

In total, seven district and borough councils – Corby, Kettering, Northampton and Wellingborough, East Northamptonshire, South Northamptonshire and Daventry – will not vote today.

How Did Things Get This Bad?

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Headquarters of Northamptonshire County Council 

The decision to scrap the local elections was announced by communities secretary James Brokenshire in November.

At the time, he said they should be suspended until May 2020, so as to not “confuse” voters, adding that the elections “would involve significant costs that would be hard to justify”.

All councils in the county had requested to postpone the vote, after Brokenshire announced a restructuring from seven councils into two new unitary authorities – West Northampton and North Northampton.

But the lead up to the announcement was even more tumultuous, with the county council twice declaring effective bankruptcy after it overspent by millions.

Government-appointed inspectors even concluded last year that the council should be scrapped altogether, because it was so badly run and tantamount to a “national scandal”, Northampton North MP Michael Ellis declared in response.

The council had blamed cuts to government funding, which investigators rejected.

The news led to council leader Heather Smith stepping down.

The government stepped in with a financial bailout, effectively to stop the council being declared bankrupt for a third time.

How Else Has The Council Tried To Save Money?

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NCC, which looks after a raft of frontline services including education, public transport and social services, has stopped a series of essential services from going ahead, including a block on road gritting, which saved the authority almost £500,000.

It also offloaded 17 of its libraries to be looked after by the community to keep them open.

Consequences of the crisis facing the council includes crucial children’s protection services being managed by a special taskforce.

Meanwhile, severe budget cuts to adult social care for older people meant the services were on the verge of being declared unsafe by officials.

The cuts are all in attempts to help the authority save around £41m this year.

What Does The Delay Mean For Sitting Councillors?

They will get more time in office, extending a four-year term to possibly five.

Labour councillor Mick Crimshaw told the BBC he is “frustrated and disappointed” at having to hold office without a mandate for at least an extra year.

“It’s right and proper that people should have a say,” he said.

 

CLARIFICATION: This article was amended shortly after publication to make clear that the cancelled local elections were for district and borough councils. The headlines were also amended to reflect that elections were postponed because of the financial crisis.