COUNCIL: Criticism is misguided

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I read Coun Peter Jackson’s letter with a sinking heart, (Northumberland Gazette, October 20).

It is ironic that one of the findings in our peer review last year, that ‘councillors need to remember that they are the external face of Northumberland County Council and campaigns in the media can be detrimental to everyone and the council’s reputation’, was forgotten by some senior opposition councillors.

Time and again, Coun Jackson takes to local newspapers to bemoan the financial pressures we are under. Yes, we are, but he neglects to mention it is his own Government which is responsible for the crippling 82.4 per cent cuts to our funding.

Coun Jackson’s latest moans include concerns about Active Northumberland, a charitable organisation which operates independent of our council. Yes, we have provided support to keep it financially stable, but its pricing and operation is a matter for itself.

Coun Jackson seems to struggle with facts and figures. The council is not struggling financially, as evidenced by external, independent audits.

Manor Walks, the county’s largest shopping centre, was not bought by the council, but by Arch, the Northumberland Development Company, whose board members include Coun Jackson.

To describe it as a ‘crazy vanity scheme’ shows how misguided Coun Jackson is. It is simply prudent financial planning as Arch will repay the money at a higher rate than we borrowed it, returning a ‘profit’ to council taxpayers, as well as expanding the centre and improving the local infrastructure.

He complains about lack of investment in car parking and a shortage of spaces, whereas the reality is we have extended a number of car parks, such as in Alnmouth, and are actively looking at alternative parking solutions in towns from Berwick to Hexham.

And despite having over 5,000kms of road to look after, we’re spending millions improving highways, while our local services teams have received many compliments over their grass cutting across the county this year.

Perhaps if Coun Jackson was to attend our scrutiny committees more often he would be aware of these ongoing developments and could communicate them to his electorate.

Finally, Coun Jackson criticises arrangements around planning and decision making. The planning service had under-performed for a number of years in terms of planning and the latest six-month review has highlighted significant improvements in performance.

Ultimately, despite all the positive findings of the peer review, its concerns regarding some ‘undesirable member behaviours’ ring sadly true for some at a time when this administration is trying to do everything it can to pull together and make great places even better for communities throughout Northumberland.

Coun Grant Davey,

Leader, Northumberland County Council