The mysterious case of the missing speeding Health Secretary video!


ITV’s short clip of Matt Hancock, Health Secretary’s ministerial blue-lighted car travelling at speed through Ottery Hospital’s car park, was deleted yesterday afternoon, less than 24 hours after it was posted.
Given that the video, which was in the process of going viral, must have dismayed both Mr Swire and Mr Hancock, my suspicions are directed firmly at these two.

I will be interested to hear from the two politicians whether they played a role in removing the embarrassing footage.

The tweet in question from political correspondent, Nick Smith, also confirmed that Mr Hancock’s black jaguar, using its security alert blue lights, appeared to be fleeing the apparently terrifying prospect of talking to me and around a dozen peaceable looking residents….

Here’s the video of the ministerial car speeding away after trying to shake us off…

For more detail see……/why_has_itv_deleted_the_film…

“£40k spent hiding how rarely northern powerhouse minister visited north”

“The government has spent two years and £40,000 of taxpayers’ money trying to hide how little the northern powerhouse minister visited the north of England in his role, in what one prominent northern figure called “a blatant disregard for the principles of democratic accountability”. …

The Information Commissioner’s Office then undertook an investigation, during the course of which it found that the department adopted “what appears to have been a strategy of wilful procrastination in order to obstruct a request for information”.

The DCLG appealed against the decision to the first-tier tribunal of information rights, where in early 2018 Judge Hazel Oliver ruled that the department must hand over Wharton’s diary.

From start to finish, the process took 26 months. …

Hidden in 111 pages of internal DCLG emails relating to the FoI request is a document headlined “Official – Sensitive” dating from March 2016 which includes official advice stating “there is a strong likelihood of a decision to withhold the requested information … being overturned”.

Legal experts are unimpressed. “It sounds like a classic: they knew they were likely to lose and still wasted time and money on it, and come out looking even worse,” said Paul Bernal, senior lecturer in law at the University of East Anglia.

Manchester-based data protection consultant Tim Turner said: “Departments have shown time and again that they’re very secretive about who ministers meet and what they do, and spending £40,000 to hide it doesn’t seem close to the spirit of open government.”

The information that the government tried to suppress for two years shows that Wharton rarely left London as part of his role as the north’s representative in government.

Of the 693 lines of entries in Wharton’s ministerial diary, just under half contain identifiable addresses or office rooms in the “Location” column. Ninety percent of them are based in London. …”

Farmer Neil Parish might want to slap Michael Gove’s wrist!

“It’s beginning to dawn on many UK farmers that the British government might not be quite so clued up as they had been led to believe. Not only do they now doubt that the current levels of subsidies they receive will continue post-Brexit, they also worry that their needs for seasonal workers to pick vegetables and soft fruit have not been fully understood.

The latest cause for alarm has been a video produced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to promote its vision for post-Brexit agriculture.

It’s all very nostalgically rustic, with fields of barley rippling in the wind and glorious sunsets. A vision of mellow fruitfulness. Except for one thing. Some sections of it were filmed overseas.

As the magazine Farmers’ Weekly has observed, the scene in which Defra promise that farmers can expect less red tape was actually footage of an inspector visiting a Slovenian cattle shed, while the section on British farmers being rewarded for improving air and water quality was filmed on a German farm. To complete the hat-trick of errors, the part where Defra promise kick-backs for farmers who try to prevent climate change was accompanied by a framer planting a Bonsai tree.

We pay these people.”

The big 2022 “social housing” con

“… May’s rabbit-in-the-hat was an additional 2bn funding for affordable housing. Considering the scale of the crisis, this is almost pitiful. It will build just 40,000 new affordable homes, when we have a need for more than a million. And the funding itself won’t be available until 2022, at which point are very likely to have a different government and/or prime minister. …

… For a number of years, big housing associations have been behaving more and more like private developers. May was quite right yesterday when she said they are ‘major multi-billion pound businesses’. And as the number of homes they build increases, their new model is proving so lucrative that private providers, pension funds and other investors are coming along for the ride, reinventing themselves as ‘affordable housing developers’, seeing a clear business opportunity for doing something that apparently has a social purpose.

But the homes they are building are not the houses we need, and the social purpose is often harder and harder to see. By far the greatest need is for social housing, and we are building the lowest levels of that since the Second World War, despite the pretty high housing outputs of housing associations. …

Buying votes with new social housing – but only after 2022!

Throughout this government’s term those in social housing have been demonised as scroungers and workshy. The government instead chose to line the pockets of already-rich developers and people being helped to buy houses that cost up to £600,000.

Today, as Brexit continues to be a shambles, education is at breaking point, inequality is at its widest, the environment is being trashed and the NHS is on its knees, May announces that, in fact, people in council houses are mostly hard-working people trying desperately to make ends meet. And that occupying such housing should not be a “stigma”!

So what changed?

Nothing, except that more and more people are deserting her party and their votes are, of course, going with them – to people like Claire Wright, for example. And to other feisty independent councillors such as East Devon Alliance’s Gardner, Rixon, Jung and Shaw.

Read the fine print on this housing. It is not promised until 2022 – when Tories may well not be in power and when our economic climate could be very different.

And if you want to know who thinks social housing is a stigma, read here:

“… Housing Secretary James Brokenshire, asked who Mrs May saw as the politicians who “look down” on social housing, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s more a sort of a greater public perception, sadly.”

Pressed further if there are Conservative politicians who take this view, Mr Brokenshire again referred to a “general stigma” which he said was a feeling among tenants who were consulted for a Government policy paper. … “

“‘Lost for words’: Somerset cuts £28m of help for most vulnerable”

Owl says: had the council raised council taxes by the cost of living in each of the years they boasted about freezing it AND making cuts at the same time ALL of the shortfall would have been covered – and more. They would have raised £114m whereas current cuts required immediately are £28 million. And all to pretend to voters that they were being very, very clever when they were being very, very stupid.

East Devon District Council operated with the same “freeze, cut and boast” throughout those years too. Though interestingly, one thing they don’t seem to have cut is staffing levels …..

Tory council latest casualty of drastic austerity measures imposed on local government:

“On Wednesday, the eight-person cabinet of Somerset county council voted through £28m of spending cuts, spread over the next two years. Over the previous six months, speculation had raged over whether Somerset would become the next Conservative-run council to join Northamptonshire in effectively going bankrupt and calling in government commissioners to sort out its mess.

And here was the answer, delivered at not much more than a week’s notice. To avoid a final disastrous plunge into the red, there would be a hacking-down of help for vulnerable families and children with special educational needs, youth services, road-gritting, flood prevention, and much more.

The proceedings took place at Shire Hall, a mock-Gothic Victorian edifice in Taunton, Somerset’s county town. An hour before they started, around 80 people had gathered to protest, chanting a slogan apparently dreamed up by the local branch of the public sector union Unison: “Don’t let the eight decide our fate.” Among the quieter participants in the protest were women who work on the county’s GetSet programme, which helps some of the county’s most vulnerable children and families. Around 70 of them are set to lose their jobs.

For fear of getting in trouble, they insisted on speaking anonymously. “There’ll be no early help,” one of them told me. “Families won’t get any attention now until they’re in crisis.”

“I’m lost for words,” said one of her colleagues. “I don’t know what to say, really. We’ve kind of been expecting this for years, but at the same time, you think, ‘Surely it won’t happen.’” They said they were expecting the finer details of the cuts’ implications to emerge in the coming days.

This is proving to be the year when the drastic austerity imposed on councils over the last eight years reaches a critical point. England’s Labour-run cities are faced with economies that stretch into the future. Back in February, Northamptonshire hit a financial wall, and issued a Section 114 notice, banning expenditure on all services outside its statutory obligations to safeguard vulnerable people. As well as Somerset, councils in Norfolk, Lancashire and East Sussex were soon said to be in danger of going the same way.

Each of these councils has its own story, but there are two common threads: they are Tory-run, and their financial problems are often ramped up by the needs of populations spread over large areas. Somerset, which covers 1,640 square miles, is a case in point and, like many English counties, its outward appearance belies its social realities.

Articles in Sunday magazines might suggest the county is now the preserve of farmers and recently-arrived hipsters. But its three largest towns are Taunton, Yeovil and Bridgwater: post-industrial, hardscrabble places which contain 19 council wards in the 20% of English areas classed as the most deprived, and whose social fabric has already been drastically damaged by austerity.

Inside the council chamber, the debate occasionally flared into anger, intensified by the fact members of the public had been given only 48 hours to read 600 pages of documents before submitting questions.

Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors repeatedly brought up the fact that between 2009 and 2016, Somerset’s ruling Conservatives had imposed a freeze on council tax, when an increase of 1.9% would have brought in an additional £114m. There were mentions of Somerset’s recent record on children’s services and the fact that in 2013, inspectors from Ofsted gave its work the lowest rating of “inadequate”, a verdict it says it has been trying to address since.

There was also talk about what was going on at the highest levels of the administration. In April, the council’s finance director departed after 31 years, and reportedly took a job at a donkey sanctuary; his temporary replacement is said to be costing the council nearly £1,000 a day.

Legally, all councils have to set an annual balanced budget. In this financial year, the meeting was told, the council was facing an overspend of £11.4m. Much of this was rooted in the rising costs of children’s services, traceable in turn to a shortage of social workers, foster carers and adopters. But there were plenty of other factors at work. In the last five years, the biggest block of money Somerset receives from central government, the so-called revenue support grant,has fallen from around £90m to less than £9m. Next year, it will disappear completely. The county’s reserves are now down to a mere £7.8m.

Ten years ago, as George Osborne commenced the era of austerity, the council’s Tory leadership gave the impression that it was only too keen to help. These days, by contrast, most of the Conservatives trying to find a way through the mess have the wearied, put-upon look of people hanging on to an ethos of public service, but involved in something so difficult that it seems almost impossible.

This theme ran through the 20 minutes I spent talking to the council’s Tory leader, David Fothergill. He said the council’s problems had affected his health, but wouldn’t be drawn on any specifics. “This isn’t why I came into politics,” he said. “We all try to make things better, but at times, it seems like we’re making things worse to try to get there.”

Up until 2009, the council was run by the Lib Dems, which also had three of Somerset’s five MPs. Now, all of the county’s parliamentary representatives are Tories, along with 35 of its 55 councillors. As much as anything, then, this is essentially a story about the Conservative party, and the widening gap between national politicians and the local councillors whom they expect to dutifully implement many of the decisions made in Westminster and Whitehall. By way of making these tensions clear, one Somerset MP this week accused the council of being “an object lesson in waste”.

“Three or four weeks ago,” Fothergill said, “I wrote to all of the Somerset MPs, telling them what was coming. Very little has come back. Four or five days ago, I wrote saying, ‘I really need some help – we’re getting to the sticky end of this.’ And I got nothing back: no response.

“I know we’re all busy, but actually, the most important people in all this are people who live in Somerset. And I will stand up for them, and make myself very unpopular, because my job is to look after them.”

Not long after we spoke, an emailed statement from the department for housing, communities and local government arrived: “Our funding settlement gave a real terms increase in resources for local government in 2018-19. Local authorities are responsible for their own funding decisions, but over the next two years, we are providing councils with £90.7 billion to help them meet the needs of their residents. We are giving them the power to retain the growth in business rates income and are working with local government to develop a funding system for the future based on the needs of different areas.”

As Fothergill led six hours of discussion in the council chamber, his voice occasionally cracked with emotion. Early on, he announced that a £240,000 cut in help for young carers, which had prompted no end of outrage, would be deferred and reviewed. But everything else passed, and there was frequent talk of more cuts to come.

In the Shire Hall’s cavernous reception area, I spoke to Leigh Redman, one of Somerset’s three Labour councillors. “The leader of the council needs to stand up and start pointing the finger,” he said. “He should stand up and say to the government: ‘We’re bankrupt. You’ve put us in this position – now get us out of it.’”

Was he talking about setting an illegal budget, and thereby triggering the arrival of government commissioners?

“If needs be,” he said. He then paused. “I’m waxing lyrical,” he told me. He then turned and went back up the stairs to the council chamber. There were three hours and several millions pounds of cuts still to go.”

Tory EDDC council tries to salvage Tory government benefits policy!

Unbelievable – a Tory council having to offer help people struggling with a Tory government benefit cock-up. Perhaps councillors should ask how many residents have sought such help!

None of this should be necessary.


“Universal Credit claimants struggling to cope with recent changes urged to seek help from council’s benefits team

‘We’re here to help’

East Devon District Council is urging working age residents who are struggling to cope with the recent changes to Universal Credit to seek help and get in contact with its benefits team.

Over the last few months, the team has been advising and supporting over 70 working age residents to make their Universal Credit claim, working alongside Honiton Jobcentre Plus staff with the roll out of the new benefit.

In many cases, team members have gone the extra mile to help those who have come forward. In one example, they helped a young man who had recently moved to Honiton into temporary accommodation. He had a small child and was distressed because he was having difficulties claiming benefits. An officer sat with him and helped him with his claim where, he discovered, he had more benefits available to him than he thought. Officers also contacted his support worker who will now help him with future claims.

In another case, a young claimant attended the Honiton office to make a claim online too late in the day to get payments sorted. Although she left with details of the foodbank nearby and an appointment as early as could be arranged, she was very distressed and in tears. Immediately the following morning the officer who helped the claimant organised help for her.

Cllr Dean Barrow, East Devon District Council’s portfolio holder for finance, said: “Our message is clear – please get in touch with us and we can help you. Many of our customers applying for Universal Credit are finding that our help is invaluable and the council genuinely wants to support our residents affected by this change and help them receive the benefit that they need.

“If anyone is experiencing any problems with claiming Universal Credit or have any concerns about it, please get in touch with the district council’s Benefits Team.”

If you are making a claim for Universal Credit don’t delay in making your claim and getting information to support your claim sent to the Jobcentre. If you need any help to make your claim or you are struggling with this, please get in touch with the district council’s benefits team by email or by phone 01395 571770 or contact Jobcentre Plus on 0800 328 5644.

To find out more about Universal Credit visit our website:

South West Water – the great consumer con

“South West Water’s half-baked plan won’t cool nationalisation fever

Guardian: Nils Pratley Tuesday 4 Sept

Utilities company’s plan to give customers free shares equates to only £25 per household.

One can guess at how the thinking went in the boardroom at Pennon, owner of South West Water. The Labour party is threatening to nationalise the water industry, so let’s try to defuse some tension by giving customers free shares. We’ll call it “a new deal” and talk about “empowering” people.
Up to a point, one can understand the idea to do something eye-catching. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has yet to explain how he would pay for his plans, or which of the many versions of public ownership he prefers (two big oversights), but he has definitely tapped into resentment with the current privatised model in England and Wales. Water companies know they are seen as greedy and unaccountable. It is why, as they unveiled their business plans for the next five-year regulatory period, many announced various “partnership” ideas that were nods to the nationalisation debate.

Pennon’s plan, however, looks half-baked. It apparently polled strongly, but one wonders if the researchers described a worked example. The company plans to offer customers a shareholding, or “shadow” shareholding, worth £20m, which sounds vaguely impressive until you realise it equates to £25 per household for the 800,000 households in the south-west. At Pennon’s current share price of 755p that means three-and-a-bit shares each, which would be hideously fiddly to administer.

As for the claim that customers will “be able to receive a share of the company profits as shareholders do”, punters should know that Pennon’s shares currently yield 5%. So the starting dividend income on a £25 holding would be about £1.25 a year, not always enough for half a pint of beer in a Cornish hostelry. Such tiny sums probably wouldn’t convert many waverers to the joys of privatisation. Pennon tends to be more open than most of its breed, but this looks like a gimmick that could easily backfire.

Rivals kept things simpler. Thames, whose financial engineering, pollution and leaks have done most to excite nationalisation fever, said its private owners would have to accept lower dividends while an extra £2bn is spent on infrastructure. Severn Trent said it would give 1% of profits to a “community fund”. Both approaches ignored soaraway boardroom pay, another source of complaint, but at least they are easier to understand than token shareholdings.”

“Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m”

“… Excluding developments where planning consents were gained by a previous owner and the student accommodation projects, in 93% of Berkeley’s 57 London developments the company told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In one example, Land Registry data indicates Berkeley Group sold 71 homes in its Ebury Square development in Belgravia, central London, for a total of £358m.

The company told Westminster council that as the development was refurbishing an existing building that contained 60 units, only 11 additional homes would be generated. This meant, under Westminster planning rules, that Berkeley was obliged to build only one affordable home. But instead of building it on site, Berkeley made a payment to the council of £1.6m towards low-cost housing elsewhere in the borough.

Freedom of information disclosures show that Berkeley bought the Ebury Square site – a former police house – from the Metropolitan Police for £23.6m in 2009. The profit on this single development is thought to be in excess of £200m.

At Kew Bridge in west London, Hounslow council accepted that Berkeley could only build 20% of a 308-unit scheme as affordable – half the local authority’s affordable target.

Building those units, Berkeley stated in a planning agreement, would mean the scheme would be £24.6m in deficit. Berkeley told Hounslow that house sales would generate £132m. Berkeley did agree to make an extra payment to Hounslow capped at £8.3m in the event of the scheme performing well. Land Registry data suggest that the scheme generated close to £250m, with one apartment selling for £4.55m.

A spokesman for the company said: “Berkeley has a sustainable, successful business model that enables it to perform well throughout the economic cycle, as demonstrated by its results of recent years and creation of fantastic new communities and long term value. We are justly proud of our track record in building 10% of London’s much-needed private and affordable homes.

“Last year alone, Berkeley contributed more than £400m of subsidy for affordable housing and wider community and infrastructure projects, which has helped us be recognised as London and the south-east’s leading place-maker. Sales utilising Help to Buy are a very small part of Berkeley’s sales.” …

New York Times: “As Austerity Helps Bankrupt an English County, Even Conservatives Mutiny”

This us from the New york Times and published in the United States: it is the best assessment of the effect of austerity on the UK that Owl has ever read and contains deep-level information not seen anywhere else. It was written by NTT journalist Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura – “a correspondent based in London, where she covers an eclectic beat ranging from politics to social issues spanning Europe, the Middle East and Africa”.

“NORTHAMPTON, England — It was a seething, stomping protest in this ordinarily genteel medieval town: Throngs of residents, whistling and booing, swarmed the county hall. “Criminals!” they shouted. They held up banners that read: “Tory councilors wanted for crimes against people in Northamptonshire.”

The crime?

The bankruptcy of their Conservative-led local government, which has a budget deficit so big that councilors are stripping away all but the minimum services required by law. Inside the county hall, the besieged council debated the latest round of cuts — it had already voted to close libraries and stop repairing roads — as disgusted residents jeered.

“Your guilt should keep you awake at night,” Patrick Markey said at the meeting earlier this month, his voice trembling with rage. “It’s criminal incompetence and criminal politics.”

Usually, local government finance is a dull affair. But Northamptonshire has become a warning sign of the perilous state of Britain’s local governments. A Conservative Party bastion, Northamptonshire is leafy and affluent, littered with aristocratic estates — yet in February its local authority became the first in two decades to effectively run out of money.

Britain is already in upheaval over Brexit, its looming withdrawal from the European Union, with many experts warning of economic hardship ahead. But Northamptonshire is foreshadowing another potential fiscal crisis: Local governments drained of resources, cutting services to the bone.

Councils are Britain’s fundamental unit of local government, dealing with an array of basic needs: trash collection, public transport, libraries, town planning, and care for children and other vulnerable people, among other things. They levy a tax on homes and charge fees for some services. They also collect a nationally set tax on commercial real estate, and keep an increasing share of it. But for years they received most of their funding from the central government.

The crisis in Northamptonshire is complicated and partly self-inflicted. But it has roots in the austerity policies and cost cutting that the Conservative-led national government imposed a decade ago in response to the global financial crisis. The Tories in London argued that austerity was the responsible solution to balance public accounts and encourage future growth.

Now some Conservatives, especially at the local level, are openly defying what has been a pillar of the party’s ideology.

Funding from London for local governments has fallen 60 percent since 2010, with reductions expected to total $21 billion by 2020, the Local Government Association has calculated. In response, nearly every council in Britain has cut or outsourced services, sold off assets and tried a host of budget gimmicks, experts in local finance say.

One in 10 of the larger councils that have obligations to care for children and elderly people — about 35 councils in all — are in danger of exhausting their reserves within the next three years, according to the National Audit Office.

“There’s a slow-moving domino effect,” said Rob Whiteman, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy.

Northamptonshire was the first flashing red light. East Sussex County Council, run by Conservatives, recently announced it would reduce services to the “legal minimum.” The Conservative-led county council in Somerset warned it might be facing bankruptcy. This month, two families won a case against Bristol City Council to block plans to reduce funding of special education needs and disability services.

The Northamptonshire council, having run through its rainy-day funds, now has enough money to pay only for mandatory services for the elderly and children. Unable by law to run a deficit, the council voted in February to shut down 21 of the county’s 36 libraries, remove bus subsidies and suspend road repairs. (A court recently blocked the decision to close the libraries.) At the meeting earlier this month, some councilors seemed resigned to the angry public response.

“I am happy to apologize,” said Richard Auger, a Tory councilor. “I think mistakes were made,” he added. “It’s a situation we’re responsible for.”

The crisis is a political embarrassment for Conservatives, who are already divided into warring camps over Brexit. The former leader of the Northamptonshire council, Heather Smith, has resigned from her position, and from the Conservative Party. Investigators sent from London blamed her and other councilors for mishandling local finances, even as she blamed London for impossible mandates and a refusal to consider higher taxes.

Sounding increasingly like their Labour opponents, some Conservative councilors in Northamptonshire are now talking about stopping the outsourcing of public services and demanding tax increases.

“I was a believer that we had to save money, but there had to be other ways than to slash and burn,” said John Ekins, a recently elected Conservative councilor in Northamptonshire. “How did we get to where we are? What the hell has been going on?”

The Graph of Doom

They called it the Graph of Doom.

It was 2013, and the Northamptonshire council was presented a Power Point chart that depicted an unavoidable contradiction: a sharp, rising public demand for local services contrasting with a sharp cutback in money from the national government, as part of the austerity program led by Conservatives in London.

“It was showing how we were all heading towards this cliff edge,” recalled Ms. Smith, who was then a senior councilor. The cliff edge was a shortfall of $175 million that needed to be addressed by 2020.

A committed Tory, Ms. Smith initially embraced the calls for austerity, as did many in reliably Conservative Northamptonshire. “Being a Conservative-run council, everybody accepted that the country had been overspending and that it was time to scale all of that back,” Ms. Smith said.

The problem was how to do it. The council needed to find huge savings, but it also had limited revenue sources.

Raising taxes was ruled out, deemed ideologically unpalatable while the Conservatives were making austerity-related cutbacks. Eric Pickles, the government minister who oversaw local government financing between 2010 and 2015, said it was a “moral duty” for the Tories to keep local taxes low.

“Some Conservative councils had a big fight over it, and said, ‘No, we’re not doing it,’ ” Ms. Smith said. “They had a huge amount of pressure on them.”

Northamptonshire also had a more unusual problem. Many Conservative councils were partly shielded from central-government cuts because they had large earnings from the commercial real-estate tax, called business rates.

But the concentration of blue blood in Northamptonshire actually hurt its tax base. Much of the region is owned by gentry like the Duke of Buccleuch, thought to be the largest private landowner in Scotland and England, and Earl Spencer, uncle to Princes William and Harry, heirs to the British throne.

Those holdings are generally agricultural land, said Guy Shrubsole, who runs the investigative blog “Who Owns England?” And agricultural land is exempt from business rates, leaving Northamptonshire even more dependent on funding from London.

Faced with the cold reality of the Graph of Doom, council leaders decided that the old ways of doing business no longer applied. The council’s then chief executive, Paul Blantern, designed the “Next Generation Model,” an initiative that pivoted the council, like many others across the country, toward outsourcing.

Under “Next Gen,” the council would become a commissioning body, spinning off many of the services it had been performing and, in the process, saving millions of pounds a year.

One initiative, Olympus Care Services, was founded in 2014, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the council. It was created to oversee adult social care services, with the intention of generating extra revenue by selling off surplus bed spaces to privately funded care customers.

During its first years, Olympus managed to post modest profits, as well as reducing the overall cost to the council.

But it never achieved the projected cost savings, and as budget pressure from the council mounted, it started recording losses — around $4 million in 2016 and $1.25 million in 2017.

“It’s all such a perfect storm,” said Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, a cross-party group that represents England’s local authorities. “Northamptonshire was trying to be too innovative too quickly, outsourcing this and spinning off that, that they thought would save them money and protect some of the services.”

“They did some things wrong,” he added. “But inexorably austerity is leading many counties into very difficult financial positions.”

The outsourcing experiment collapsed last year, before it had fully started. By February, the council realized it had no way out, issuing a formal notification of de facto bankruptcy. In response, Conservative leaders in London dispatched government inspectors.

In March, the inspectors issued a damning report.

Max Caller, the chief inspector who wrote the report, said that the county council’s troubles were self-inflicted and that the Next Gen approach did not have any “documented underpinning” that set out how it was expected to deliver savings.

“The things that they did were unwise,” he said in an interview. “You could say that they didn’t want to face up to the challenges of austerity, but all the other councils have.”

According to his findings, he said, Northamptonshire overspent by $130 million over three years and took no steps to rein in expenditure. “Everything has been a waste of money.”

Still, he said of the financial problems afflicting other councils: “You can’t go year after year holding down taxation rates at local level and taking the money away and expecting the same level of service. That’s not possible.”

Ms. Smith and other local Conservatives said the inspectors’ report was unfair, and that the national government was wrongly scapegoating the council. She said other Conservatives, locally and in London, grew irritated with her insistence that insufficient funding was the core problem.

“They wanted me to shut up about us being underfunded,” she said.

This year, the government announced some new money for councils, including about $200 million for adult social services. Even so, some experts say that councils are still staring at a $4 billion funding hole.

In response, according to an annual government survey of council leaders, an overwhelming majority of county councils across England plan to raise council tax, their levy on homes, 5.99 percent this year — the maximum the central government will allow. Many have also said they would like to raise business rates, a move the central government is still rejecting.

Before declaring bankruptcy, Northamptonshire took the desperate step of selling and leasing back a $70 million headquarters building it opened in October. The move brought widespread public ridicule and helped prompt the arrival of the government inspectors.

Northamptonshire’s financial troubles were clear from the moment the government began to pull back on grants to local authorities, officials said. What they did not expect was that a Conservative government in London would let the county slide into bankruptcy.

‘The Whole Process Has Gone Mad’

On July 24, the Northamptonshire Council issued a Section 114 notice that banned any new expenditure of public money, after realizing it needed to save almost $90 million more this year. In laymen’s terms, this meant that the council was declaring de facto bankruptcy for a second time.

Politics is usually sharply divided in the county, with Labour on the left and the Tories on the right. But by the time the council voted to shut down most of the county’s libraries, the overall scope of the cutbacks startled many people in both parties. In recent years, the council had also closed local centers for children and sharply reduced educational funding.

But it was the vote to shut down the libraries that struck the sharpest nerve, even in affluent villages like Roade, where the local library is described as “a pub without pints.”

“I couldn’t face the libraries being cut,” said Sam Rumens, a Conservative councilor who voted against that measure, as he sat recently with some Labour officials at the town hall discussing “problems of capitalism.” (“This is one of the leftiest views you’ll get out of me today,” he told them.)

“There was a very sharp intake of breath,” he recalled when he said that he would oppose the cuts. Labour lawmakers cheered and members of the public who attended the debate on the budget this winter roared their approval.

“The whole process has gone mad,” said Jason Smithers, another Conservative politician and the incoming mayor of Higham Ferrers, as he strolled through the town, which has yellow-brick houses that look straight out of a Jane Austen novel and a grocer selling organic duck and goose eggs.

Like Mr. Rumens, he was a dissenter from his Conservative colleagues. “They were like cowboys running through the town,” he said of colleagues who voted for the library cuts. Mr. Smithers said he supported higher taxes even if it would jeopardize his political fortunes. “I’m a Conservative through and through,” he insisted. “But you’ve got to be realistic.”

Council leaders in Northamptonshire said they had done everything by the Conservative government rule book.

“We did everything that the government asked for,” said one senior council official, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. There was even a handbook prepared by Mr. Pickles, the minister in London, on “50 ways” councils could save money. It suggested banning mineral water in council meetings, scrapping subsidized canteens in favor of local sandwich delivery firms and opening coffee shops in libraries.

In Horton, a village where elegant mansions peek from behind wooded lanes, Wedgwood Swepston, 57, was out inspecting his Land Rover. An Aston Martin idled nearby.

“They’ve been austere in the wrong places,” he said of the government. “When austerity affects people who cannot look after themselves, then you need to question whether austerity has gone too far.”

When asked about his party affiliation, he became thoughtful. “I suppose I’m now what you call a ‘floater,’ ” he said.

“It makes me cross,” said Gloria Wagstaff, 77, expressing her discontent with typical British understatement as she waited for a bus in Higham Ferrers. “The whole government has lost its way.”