Matt Moore opens his council notebook as a budget is finally set for Northamptonshire that cuts a swathe through the library service…
Northamptonshire County Council has successfully passed its new budget, after the previous one was deemed illegal by auditors. At the time, the auditors said that the proposed budget relied too much on capital receipts, this new budget only relies on them for £31 million. Part of this new budget slashed libraries, the council is now only going to run the eight largest, and seven medium-sized libraries. The remaining 21 face closure, unless the public start running them.
It was this part of the budget that raised the most disapproval from councillors. Cllr. Steve Osborne (Con. Long Buckby) said he recognised the need for cuts, but as some villages in his ward had such steep hills that not everyone could walk up them. He elaborated that if he voted to remove their library he wouldn’t feel as if he could go back. Cllr. Mike Griffiths (Con. Irchester) called on the council to apologise to library groups and the people who use them, the elderly people who may be isolated because of the cuts, and motorists who still have to drive over roads littered with potholes. He also called for an apology because of the lack of “foresight” and communication.”
And with snow falling outside as the debate went on, it wasn’t just the cuts to library services that received a frosty reception. Cllr. Robin Brown (Con. Woodford and Weedon) conceded that it was “very unlikely” that he would be “here next year” and was repeatedly heckled during his speech, with some calling him a “walking disaster,” with another telling him that if he valued council staff so much then he should “pay them.” Brown’s reaction to these heckles was heavily criticised by Cllr. Adam Brown (Con. Bugbrooke), who said that the Cabinet member for Finance had dismissed the public’s concern with “contempt.” Cllr. Adam Brown then called for him to resign over his comments. Cllr. Chris Stanbra (Lib Dem Oakley) lambasted Cllr. Robin Brown’s speech, which saw him criticise the previous Labour administration for not raising council tax high enough following their time in power from 1996 to 2005. Cllr. Stanbra reminded Cllr. Robin Brown that during his own 2005 election campaign, he had said that Labour had raised council tax too high. However, it was potentially Cllr. Gareth Eales (Lab. Dallington Spencer) who was the most scathing; not only did he call Cllr. Robin Brown “arrogant”, he also went on to call the Conservative group’s 2017 manifesto a “work of fiction”, before going on to call the whole manifesto an example of “political fraud” and “illegal.”
The budget was passed with 35 voting in favour. The opposition was joined by three Conservative councillors – Cllr. Steve Osborne, Cllr. Sam Rumens (Con. Kingsthorpe North) and Cllr. Jason Smithers (Con. Higham Ferrers). One Conservative councillor, Cllr. Rob Gough (Con. Earls Barton) abstained. On the vote to implement the budget, the opposition was joined by several other Conservative councillors on abstaining, but this vote passed with 32 voting in favour.