County cannot expect parishes to do their dirty work

YOU have to hand it to our masters at County Hall for their sheer cunning.

Faced with capping by central government if they dare to raise council tax above five per cent, yet grappling with £60million worth of cuts to be made this coming year, they came up with a novel way around this obstacle.

The idea is simple enough. It involves divesting services like grass-cutting, public toilets, street cleaning, play areas and so forth off to the town and parish councils, which can’t yet be capped by Whitehall.

The parishes take on responsibility for providing these services and raise their annual precepts to cover the extra costs involved.

They then pay the county council to provide said services from their newly-increased budgets.

The grass gets cut, the bins get emptied, everyone is happy.

Oh, but wait.

Didn’t we just get rid of an entire tier of local government?

Wasn’t that the point of having a single unitary authority in the first place?

Didn’t that save us copious amounts of money? Yes, yes and no.

It’s hard to determine what the worst part of this deal is.

Is it the dubious way it attempts to increase your council tax by the back door, or the fact that the county will still charge the same despite ditching its responsibilities?

Or perhaps the cynical way that our parish and town councils have been exploited, effectively burdening them with massive corporate responsibility which should be handled by professional officers whose grotesque salaries are footed for by you, the taxpayer?

Without any disrespect to the vital role they play in their respective communities, all but the largest are simply not equipped to manage the functions of providing major services.

The county council cannot, and should not, expect well-meaning parish councillors to bail it out of this mess. The Government forced the unitary on us, so it should bear the brunt.

To pass the buck in this way is, frankly, a dereliction of duty.

HEADING up or down the A1 through north Northumberland at the moment is a unique experience for motorists.

It’s the closest you will come to being on a road populated entirely by drink-drivers, as the vehicles ahead of you randomly weave and swerve across the lane – not because they’ve had one too many, but to avoid the potholes littering the highway.

While our sources tell us that the latest patch-up job by the Highways Agency is now under way, and there is evidence to suggest that indeed it is, the recent bad weather has only confirmed the obvious.

Unless this road is radically improved as a whole, then each spring we can expect to see its surface looking like it has endured a series of asteroid strikes.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this sorry saga is that if the last Government had only grasped the nettle and given us the dual carriageway upgrade we have fought for, we wouldn’t be pouring money down the drain every year to stop it completely crumbling away.

It would be interesting to see just how much has been spent maintaining the A1 in its present state, plus projections for the next decade, and comparing the total to the projected cost of a dualling project.

The biggest problem we face now, however, is the harsh economic climate which has led to the slashing of budgets for such programmes.

We all know that the A1 should have been rightfully dualled years ago.

Instead, we’re now faced with spending a fortune to simply maintain this second-rate track, with no improvements in sight.