On 27 March, the then Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, announced to the House that he was minded to appoint Commissioners to take over functions associated with governance and scrutiny, appointment of statutory officers and strategic financial management at Northamptonshire County Council (“the Authority”).
These proposals followed the publication of the report of the independent best value inspection, led by Max Caller CBE, at the Authority which contained serious findings. In particular, the Inspector identified that the Council has failed to properly comply with its Best Value duty for some time. This is not because of lack of funds: as the report states, the Council’s “Mind the Gap” analysis “does not demonstrate that [the Authority] has been particularly badly treated by the funding formula”. The report sets out in some detail the governance failings which have culminated in the Council’s Chief Finance Officer issuing a section 114 notice to stop new spending and KPMG’s Advisory Notice on the Council’s Budget. It concludes “living within budget constraints is not part of the culture of [the Authority]”.
Alongside this announcement on 27 March, the Authority and principal local authorities in its area were invited to make representations about his proposals on or before 12 April. Both the Authority and the principal authorities made representations as did Voluntary Voices Northamptonshire - an organisation representing voluntary bodies in the Northamptonshire area. All welcomed the proposal to appoint Commissioners and the Authority asked that such an appointment should be made as quickly as possible. Following consideration of these representations and further consideration of the Inspector’s report, I have now decided to go ahead with the proposals made by my predecessor.
I have decided to appoint two Commissioners forming a team with a proven record in providing leadership and financial stability in local government:
- Tony McArdle (Lead Commissioner) – until February 2018, Chief Executive of Lincolnshire County Council, a post he held for 12 years. He has previously held a number of senior posts in local government and is currently Chair of the Association of County Chief Executives.
- Brian Roberts (Finance Commissioner) – former director of corporate resources and deputy chief executive at Leicestershire County Council until end March 2018. This followed on from a varied career in local government. A past President of CIPFA, he has also been a past president of the Society of County Treasurers of the Association of Local Government Treasurers. Currently a national council member and a trustee of the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
The Commissioners have been appointed for the period from 10 May 2018 to 31 March 2021 or such earlier or later time as I determine. I have not ruled out the possibility of further Commissioners should the need arise.
I have published the Directions and Explanatory Memorandum associated with this announcement on https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/northamptonshire-county-council-directions-and-explanatory-memorandum
The 27 March announcement was accompanied by an invitation to all the principal Northamptonshire local authorities, including the County Council, to make proposals for a restructuring of local government across Northamptonshire. The authorities are working together well on this and have asked that I extend the deadline for responses from July to August. I am happy to do this, to enable further opportunity for local community engagement and consultation, and the development of locally generated proposals. I have also asked the Local Government Association to consider how best to support the authorities as they develop their proposals. They are working on this and an announcement will be made shortly.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords