BUDGET: It’s a ‘no win’ situation

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A five-hour budget meeting took place last week to decide the £380million capital and £780million revenue spending plans for Northumberland County Council.

Since then, my discussions with the public reveal some misunderstandings about what took place and why. This is worth clarifying in case anyone is taken in by election ‘silly season’ nonsense.

Councillors can seek amendments, but can only vote once for the whole budget – for, against or abstain.

The Conservative group leader, in respect of Arch funding, proposed one amendment that failed, but another, proposed by me, succeeded in deleting an item in the capital programme to fund a loan of £8.5million to the Alnwick Garden Trust.

Whilst I recognise the imaginative nature of the village play scheme and its enormous potential as a visitor attraction, I could not agree to this amount being placed in our heavily strained budget unless, and until, a full risk appraisal has been carried out.

There is much in the budget that I like and support, but too much that I don’t like and couldn’t possibly support, such as the proposal to move County Hall to Ashington.

Had I voted for the budget, my opponents would have depicted me as a councillor who supported items in it that I am clearly against, but having voted against the budget I am now being presented by these same people as opposing items that I clearly support. It’s called ‘no win’ because you can’t pick and choose what you vote for in a budget.

I have always been, and always will be, heavily involved in the co-ordination of major projects that benefit our community, working with anyone, across all parties, to secure what is good for our ward. This includes refurbishing The Playhouse as a community hub, but leaving the Board in charge of business, and I recognise the key role played by the county council leader in getting this so close to completion after a rocky path.

Another great project near its £1million final funding, which I have taken great pains to help secure, is an all-weather football pitch, available to schools and the public, under the umbrella of Alnwick Town Football Club, but led by Alnwick Town Juniors. Thanks to the county council chief executive, the Football Foundation, Alnwick Town Junior leaders and Northumberland Estates, we are almost there.

I hope all candidates conduct this forthcoming election campaign in a positive manner that befits the role they seek, avoiding the negative campaigning that undermines public confidence in elected members. It shouldn’t and needn’t be done this way, any more than local government should be run this way.

Gordon Castle

Alnwick county councillor