External audit agreed for HQ move proposal

Plans to move Northumberland County Council's headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington will receive an independent examination.

Friday, 22nd January 2016, 5:00 am
What the new Northumberland County Council HQ may look like...

An external audit will be carried out by Ernst and Young after Conservative group leader Peter Jackson wrote an open letter to the authority’s chief executive, Steve Mason.

This set out some of his party’s ‘serious objections’ to ‘the unwanted and unnecessary project to waste £40million on the white elephant of a new County Hall’.

What the new Northumberland County Council HQ may look like...

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He also criticised the lack of a full-council debate on this single issue.

But the Labour administration says the cabinet decision was taken in an ‘open and transparent manner and in full accordance with legislation’ and it has agreed to ‘include elements’ of Coun Jackson’s concerns in the review.

If the project is approved next month, as part of the council’s approval of the budget for the next financial year, construction could start in August, with staff moving in by September 2018.

Coun Jackson said claims that £12.38million would need to be spent on the existing County Hall building, at Loansdean, to bring it up to standard were ‘unjustified’ because a full structural survey has not taken place.

What the new Northumberland County Council HQ may look like...

He added: “We’re pleased that an audit will take place into what has happened so far, but we fear there won’t be enough time to do a thorough and proper job with the figures as it needs to be done before the budget meeting at the end of February.

“I have been promised a one-to-one session with the external auditor, but I’m sure other councillors and members of the public would like to have an input.”

Labour group and council leader Grant Davey said: “Neither myself, my colleagues or the chief executive have any concerns about the efficiency or appropriateness of the decision taken by cabinet.

“Some Northumberland Conservatives are seemingly intent on deliberately misleading and misconstruing an attempt by the council to react to savage cuts from their government by saving money while returning good-quality jobs and services to the county’s market towns.”