COUNCIL: Concern over the finances

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The administration at Northumberland County Council has informed residents that the rise in council tax for the ensuring year will be 2.99 per cent, plus one per cent for social care.

This amount will continue for the next financial year, which will, in effect, be nearly eight per cent over this period.

The reason for this hike, according to the administration, is that it inherited ‘a black hole’ in finances totalling £65million.

When the previous administration left office, the external audit showed the finances were in good shape.

Steve Mason, the former chief executive and finance manager who left the council in May, was thanked for all the good work he had done by the Tory leader, who said “he has left a strong and stable organisation, which will give the new administration time to agree new priorities”.

So within eight months the administration has accumulated a deficit of £65million.

One of the first things it did was to cancel the new headquarters at Ashington. It now materialises that the cost will be around £25million, but this is expected to rise.

It went on to cancel Labour’s business plan to save £30million, halted the Portland Park Project at £9million, which is set to rise, and scrapped the Core Strategy, which is standing at just over £1million and is set to rise.

A new chief executive was employed on £185,000 per year. Refurbishment of County Hall is estimated to cost £17million. However, this is strongly disputed by some who see the true figure standing at around £23million.

Taking into account the cost of the new build in Ashington, expected costs to the contractor for cancellation, and the refurbishment of County Hall, where are the savings? If the chief executive’s salary and refurbishment of County Hall are removed from the equation, the debit is £65million.

Today County Hall is an icon of a low-grade, cheap building. Tomorrow, I believe it will be a monument to ‘Tory folly’.

It is my view that this minority administration, along with the Independents, has inflicted upon the residents of Northumberland an unnecessary financial burden to help pay for what is best described as ‘Tory vanity projects’.

John Moodie

Address supplied