Paying for what?

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THE financial picture now emerging from Northumberland County Council is as depressing as it is disturbing.

Not only does the authority have to shave £60million from its budget this coming year, but we are looking at paying even more for fewer services delivered by the unitary council.

Instead, they will devolve more duties to the parish and town councils, which will have an increased burden of maintaining the likes of playgrounds, bus shelters, cemeteries, grass-cutting, community halls and even litter collection.

The alternative is for the county council to effectively downgrade these basic but essential needs or do away with them entirely.

It has been said many times before, that when the unwanted single unitary authority was forced upon the people of Northumberland, promises were made about how good it would be for all concerned.

What we are now seeing unravel is the polar opposite.

We were all told that money would be saved by abolishing the district and borough councils, money which would be ploughed back into the kinds of front-line services now threatening to disappear.

But few would have imagined that we would find ourselves facing even higher council tax bills, while the responsibilities previously fulfilled by professional council staff are now being dumped on the well-meaning part-time volunteers who populate the parish councils. Who in their right mind would want to shoulder that kind of load on a voluntary basis? Or potentially face the legal consequences should something go wrong?

This is a mistake – a huge mistake.