The new leader of Northamptonshire County Council has announced her immediate priorities will be focused on delivering the council’s budget and pushing forward with the council’s Next Generation Model of radically transforming the way services are delivered.
Speaking in full council after her election Cllr Heather Smith has said over the next 12 months all energy must be put in to pushing forward with a countywide Children’s Trust, integrating social care with health services, developing new ways of building and planning infrastructure and making sure the council delivers in full its challenging budget.
And she announced that only when this complete transformation of services is finished and the new ways of financing local government have come into force from the government could a worthwhile review of council structures and consideration of unitary governance realistically take place.
Cllr Smith said: “I think it is only right I make sure that we prioritise the delivery of the Next Generation Council and all that means in terms of integration with partners and also deliver on the difficult financial demands we face.
“As leader it is my view that only when this significant transformation is complete, will we really understand what the remaining Local Government landscape will look like and also how the changing way government funds us will manifest itself. It is only at this point, that we should even begin to contemplate the potential reshaping of local government within the county.
“Put simply only when the huge transformation of health and social care, the creation of a new countywide Children’s Trust, the formation of the sub-national transport body and the complete redesign of local government funding is complete can a truly effective and properly scoped review of local government structures take place. It is my view that first we drive through these bigger areas of transformation, then we look at reshaping local government when the landscape of public services and what governance they need is clearer.”
Cllr Smith believes that her priority areas will have the biggest benefit for improved services in the county and also the potential for the biggest efficiency savings for taxpayers.
She said: “When you look at the areas of children’s services, adult social care and health, infrastructure and economic development it is clear that these are the areas where there would be most service and financial benefit by transforming the way these are delivered across the whole county and where appropriate wider region. Indeed they would deliver far more benefits than simply pursuing unitary governance at this stage.
“For example our joint work to fully integrate our social care services with the health sector will make services easier to navigate for customers and patients and at the same time can realise hundreds of millions of pounds through more efficient working.
“I will be writing personally to our MPs who have asked us to look into local government structures to say I agree with them entirely. I agree with them because indeed we are already doing so much to transform the way our council services are delivered through stronger integration with partners and I hope to speak with them all to explain the breadth and impact of this work. I also need to explain to them the sequence of change I believe makes the most sense and will bring the most benefit to the people of Northamptonshire.
“The resolution passed at the last full council to commission an independent review into local government structures still stands. What I’m saying today is that before we can do that work properly and accurately the wider transformation of services and the way we are funded has to take place.
“I am looking forward to building on our relationships with our MPs and our district and borough colleagues as we go through this period of immense change so we can work together and hopefully build a consensus on the best way to deliver for the people of our county.”
Mrs Smith has taken over from Jim Harker who`s stood down after 11 years.