Council begins budget process

There seems to be broad agreement on much of the county council’s proposed budget as it prepares to cut another £44million in the next two years.

However, there is sure to be wrangling between the Labour administration and the opposition groups as councillors drill down into the details over the coming weeks.

As reported on the Gazette website last week, Northumberland County Council has unveiled its proposals for the period from 2015 to 2017, which will eventually be approved by the full council in February next year.

A schedule of the proposed savings was revealed at Tuesday’s meeting of the council’s economic prosperity scrutiny committee, which shows that £20million will be cut from wellbeing and community health, £10million from local services, £10 million from corporate services and £4million from Active Northumberland (leisure services).

Introducing the proposals, council and Labour leader Grant Davey said: “The Government is still forcing cuts on us.

“We think we have come up with a reasonable budget given the pressure on our shoulders.”

The council’s lead executive director, Steven Mason, emphasised the financial situation regarding Government funding, adding: “It’s important to emphasise that we have identified a two-year approach, which is helpful in giving certainty to the organisation.

“It also importantly gives us two years to focus on the future.”

Lib Dem Coun Andrew Tebbutt said that there was a lot in the proposals that he would support and welcomed the move to a two-year budget.

However, he was concerned about a ‘policy of statutory minimum provision’ and was against raising council tax (by 1.99 per cent a year) and refusing the Government’s grant to freeze rates.

The former executive member for corporate resources said: “By accepting the grant, the council achieved a lot more specific grants having taken the Queen’s shilling, if you like, or the Coaltion’s shilling.”

But Coun Davey responded: “It’s a bribe, it actually achieves nothing for the people of Northumberland.”

Conservative Coun Glen Sanderson said: “There are some issues, particularly around social care. They are on the face of it rather frightening, for our most vulnerable.”

He also highlighted the reduction in spending on books, DVDs and CDs for libraries, which amounts to £345,000 or 70.96 per cent of its budget.