Accountability fears over council’s assets transfer

The county council is in the process of transferring £7.5million worth of commercial assets to a private sector development company.

And one north Northumberland councillor has spoken out about ‘selling off the family silver without proper debate and scrutiny’.

The Gazette understands that other councillors, including senior members, are also concerned about a lack of accountability.

Coun Steven Bridgett, who represents the Rothbury ward, said: “I have no idea if the Arch organisation is the correct development vehicle for the council or not, because there has been no scrutiny or open debate regarding these proposals.

“In fact, the senior officers and councillors who are involved in this are intending to transfer these assets under delegated powers without it even coming to any council committee.

“If we are intending for these proposals to be open and transparent, the leader of the council should delegate this decision to a committee or even full council and allow one of the relevant scrutiny committees to examine the proposals.

“Officers and councillors need to remember that they do not own these assets; we are merely trustees and it is the residents of Northumberland to whom they belong.”

A spokeswoman for Northumberland County Council said: “The council is in the process of transferring commercial land and property assets with an approximate value of £7.5million to Arch, which is a private sector arms-length development company set up by, and wholly owned by, Northumberland County Council. We are not stripping assets.

“The chairman of Arch is Coun Jeff Reid, leader of the council. Board members also include Couns Roger Styring, Grant Davey, Peter Jackson, the council’s chief executive Steve Stewart and two private sector appointments as non-executive directors.

“Arch has a clear economic focus designed to bring a new, more enterprising and business-like approach to development and regeneration in the county.

“Operating surpluses generated by the company will be reinvested in projects to support and drive affordable housing, regeneration, economic development and inward investment in Northumberland.

“Arch Housing Ltd and Arch Commercial Enterprise Ltd are renamed companies and replace the companies formerly known as Northern Coalfields Property Company and Wansbeck Life which had been created by Wansbeck District Council. Arch has a completely new board of directors.”