Riches to Rags

02 August 2018 | Aaron Wise

We don’t like our local councils at the best of times. The rising council taxes, disregarded potholes and bin day mix-ups can be very frustrating.

But as a former journalist of a weekly local rag, I used to liaise with my city and county council on an almost daily basis and its’s quite surprising how much slack they take for all their endeavours. We often take them for granted as they beaver away to improve and support our local services.

One particular council this week, however, went into meltdown after it was revealed a crisis meeting took place yesterday to discuss whether it could still provide services for vulnerable children.

Cash-strapped Northamptonshire County Council has declared itself effectively bankrupt, with commissioners being parachuted In by Westminster to take over control until the end of March 2021. And it gets worse. There are now proposed plans to completely ’scrap’ the council by 2020 following the next round of local elections, with two new authorities potentially in the pipeline to replace it.

Jeez, I know austerity has made purse strings tight, but what on earth has the council been spending its money on to go bust!

Well, the reasons behind this alarming crisis are only just beginning to surface. The financial troubles in the sleepy, rural county of Northamptonshire can be rooted back to the county council itself, after having spent £53million on its state-of-the-art headquarters which opened last October.

Side note: The council only lasted months in its new One Angel Square HQ before selling it to a Canadian investment firm, who then leased it back to the council. The council is now desperately looking for tenants to sublet more of the floor space.

Despite knowing it was plunging into bankruptcy, the council still ploughed £2.2million into a ‘Roman heritage project’ earlier this year, which is on top of the £4.9million it had already invested in the scheme.

Around £9,000 was also spent on trips to Montego Bay in the Caribbean, but what’s even more surprising, is that the council had spent money on a scarf wearing class! It emerged that back in 2016, money was pumped into a course that taught people how to wear scarfs in a fashionable way. Wow.

Trust between those working in and outside of politics can be strained and the relationships treacherous. The shambolic disaster that has befallen Northamptonshire County Council has quite rightly tarnished its trust with residents of the county.

Bad PR. So bad, in fact, that I struggle to see a way back for the doomed council now. It will be interesting to see the knock-on effects, as maybe this is just the tip of the iceberg for local councils? It’s squeaky bum time…