Northamptonshire County Council’s approval of a stringent cuts proposal to save £70m has proven cause for concern among local print businesses.
Government commissioners were sent to investigate the local authority in April after a projected overspend of £21m for 2017/18 was revealed. Last night (9 August), a majority of councillors from the controlling Conservative group voted to approve a controversial programme that aims to cut spending by £60m-£70m by March next year.
While specific services and provisions were not singled out in the plan, areas such as children’s services, road maintenance and waste management were suggested.
Tory council leader Cllr Matt Golby said: “We have a clear plan in place for how we are going to do this, and the spending priorities we’ve now agreed as a council will be used to assess all spend in the council and identify where savings can be made.
“We know that 70% of the council’s spend is through contracts with third-party suppliers, and a large piece of this work will be to review all of these contracts against the new priorities on a contract-by-contract basis.
“This will not be an easy process and there will be difficult decisions ahead, but we are determined to protect services for the most vulnerable in our communities while bringing the council’s spending under control.”
All but one Conservative councillor present voted in favour of the plan, although 15 did not attend. Labour, Liberal Democrat and independent councillors all opposed the bill.
Printers with roots and staff in the area expressed their concerns to PrintWeek about matters such as business rates and council tax, which could impact on Northamptonshire businesses and their employees negatively if they were to rise in order to relieve the strain on the council.
Boyall Graphics & Print managing director Paul Hickmott said: “I understand the council has to do something to get the budget under control. However, raising business rates would not be good news for a print industry already under tight margin pressure.
“They have got to be careful because local business is what can generate wealth for the county. If it must be done, then the council must address the issue directly and assure people that it is a one-time hit.”
In the years prior to the vote, Twenty10 Digital carried out some print fulfilment for Northamptonshire, though continuous cutbacks have seen the work “dry up”.
Owner and technical director John Lumb said: “Since the council has been in the state it is, the work we did – which included things like business cards – has dried up somewhat. Not very much of our business is council-related.
“Around 60%-70% of our business is in the Northamptonshire area, though. I hope, as has been reported, the council continues to safeguard essential services. The infrastructure in the area is not very good, which is difficult for our staff who come to work from homes locally.
“I am not convinced it will directly affect our business, and it might be more of an annoyance, but we must keep an eye on cuts to services which care for people in need.”
For CKN Print, the dire straits the council has found itself in came as little surprise – with overspending and budgetary problems blighting the area for years.
Director Jay Kingston said: “I have lived in Northamptonshire all my life and I can say that the council has always been dreadful, useless, and failed to invest in the town.
“While we must be concerned as a business if the rates go up, it is not just about looking at this from a business point of view – the area is not well looked-after and you can see that just by driving around.
“This news came as no surprise at all to us and it is their responsibility to get this under control for the sake of the county. As a business, we will only be going upwards.”