Capital spending of £380m next year divides opinion

The relocation of the councils HQ to Ashington remains controversial, with the Tories opposing it but �32million allocated over the next three years.
The relocation of the councils HQ to Ashington remains controversial, with the Tories opposing it but �32million allocated over the next three years.
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Investing in a vision for the future or increasing debt with risky spending – contrasting views on Northumberland County Council’s new budget.

The proposals, which will see £6million of revenue cuts in 2017/18 as well as £380million spent on capital projects, was discussed by the cabinet on Tuesday and will go before the full council on Wednesday, February 22.

The authority agreed in February 2016 to raise council tax by 1.99 per cent – the maximum without holding a referendum – again this year, while it is also proposed to accept the Government’s offer to increase council tax by an additional three per cent for use on social care.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the budget was introduced with a video highlighting some of the council’s aims and achievements – everything from investing in new schools and leisure centres to building new affordable homes, repairing flood damage and finding new sources of income, notably the development company, Arch.

Conservative group leader, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “The big thing is the massive expansion in the capital programme. There are things in there that have cross-party support (such as reopening the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line and creating new car parks).

“But it seems to be that they’re part of a long list of election promises. There’s no details on any of these projects. It’s been expressed to me by members of the public that they doubt any will actually be delivered.

“There’s going to be a huge build-up of debt and the prediction is it will rise to £1.4billion.”

Coun Paul Kelly, leader of the Independent group, said that as a member of the cabinet, he was ‘very, very happy to share responsibility for decisions made as they had showed vision, imagination and foresight’ at a time when ‘local government is under enormous threat’.

“The video is a message of hope for the people of Northumberland,” he added. “If you have the right attitude and you invest to save, this council is doing the right thing.”

But Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, was also wary of the ‘direction of the capital programme’, although he conceded that ‘all of us know we are between a rock and a hard place’ and ‘whatever we do is going to be difficult’.

“Saving £6million this year and pushing the rest (£20million next year) after the election is unfortunate,” he added.

Council and Labour leader, Grant Davey, concluded the debate, saying: “It’s a very sound budget, it’s a vision for the future that will maintain jobs, maintain the economy of Northumberland in summer and winter and make a lot of things people want to see into reality.”