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The battle for Northamptonshire

HarkerCllr Jim Harker, the Leader of Northamtonshire County Council, says Labour rule in his county would mean a return to more tax, borrowing and state control

When talking about Northamptonshire and its County Council over the past few years, there are two intertwining narratives.

The first is the Council narrative. In 2005 we won political control of the Council from twelve years of Labour maladministration. This included council tax hikes of up to 12%, an Indian Railways model of top heavy management tiers, gross inefficiencies and a lack of an integrated strategic vision for the County.

The second is the economic climate narrative. The financial crisis of 2007 had profound impacts for the county and its council, still felt today. This county was particularly badly hit by 2007/2008. To respond, we correctly concluded that old ways of thinking were gone and would lead only to expensive cul-de-sacs. After eight long, hard, years we have turned Northamptonshire County Council into a success story. We are one of the most efficient councils in England with the lowest County council tax in the land. We have not closed one library since 2005. In fact we are building two new libraries and refurbishing and redesigning more.

We did this by rolling out an ambitious program of game-changing initiatives that shifted the way we delivered our services, creating a more business like and customer focussed structure.

First, we brought in the right people in senior management that had the right skills to deliver our vision. We reduced the Peruvian army structure of senior managers down from 45 to 14. We set up a company between us and Cambridgeshire County Council called Local Government Shared Services ( L.G.S.S.) and used it as a mechanism to share back office services like H.R. and democratic services. This made substantial savings that protected our front-line services. This has now been rolled out to other authorities including Labour controlled Norwich Council.

We have gone further. Local pay will now be determined locally and issues like sick pay policy will be more in line with the rest of the UK workforce. This comes into force in September. We have been working closely with our local enterprise partnerships to position Northamptonshire in a good place for economic recovery.

Our strategy is already beginning to bear fruit. We, as a county are recovering faster than most other parts of the UK. We protected our High Performance Engineering Sector by securing Silverstone as the home for the Grand Prix for the next 17 years. We have successfully brought in two University Technical Colleges which open in September to bring through the next generation of engineers to work on F1 cars.

Our reception on the doorstep, apropos the upcoming election has been encouraging. Initial results tell us that our vote is holding up. The Thatcher legacy factor and the issue of Welfare reform are helping us.

We are under no illusions that this election will be fought to the bone and in this county the stakes are high. Our main opponent is Labour and their plans for the county are ill thought out and a return to the days of the 1980s of a larger state sector, more borrowing and more taxing. The UKIP factor is in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, a known unknown. Nigel Farage’s recent trip to Corby and Kettering was a damp squib, however, we are taking all opposing candidates seriously.


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