More county council cuts

BUDGET savings are ‘beginning to bite’ as council bosses approved £18million of cuts to local services on Monday.

As part of the full budget approved by Northumberland County Council in February, the executive has now approved £18.7million of savings in areas such as transport and neighbourhood services, with £4.7million this financial year.

But the Conservative opposition has expressed a number of concerns, highlighting the cuts of £300,000 in concessionary fares, £250,000 from community buildings and generating an extra £547,000 from the parking strategy.

Many of the issues were discussed at a meeting of the council’s economic prosperity and strategic services overview and scrutiny committee earlier in the day and certain issues, such as the parking strategy, will return to that committee before a final decision is made.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, said: “This latest round of cuts is a further example of the Lib Dems favouring residents of urban south east Northumberland. The Lib Dem council tax freeze is now revealed as a hoax, with £847,790 worth of services forced onto parish councils who must make up the difference by raising their precept.

“The decision to cut £350,000 from public transport, in addition to cuts to concessions for elderly people and school children, unfairly targets people in rural areas who rely on these services most.

“The decision to increase parking charges in Alnwick, Berwick, Hexham and Morpeth, by £547,000, will further disadvantage rural residents who must drive to town in the absence of sufficient public transport.

“The future of many rural community halls is now threatened by a cut of £250,000.

“Once again, the council is using rural Northumberland as a cash cow to subsidise free parking and investment in Blyth and Ashington. When are we rural taxpayers going to start getting a fair deal?”

On Tuesday, he added: “It is nothing short of a scandal that the Lib Dems are refusing to debate this latest package of cuts at full council.

“They have purposefully excluded the most painful cuts from the formal budget process in February, in order to avoid democratic oversight of their decision to increase parking charges and dramatically cut funding for rural transport.”

But at the meeting Coun Andrew Tebbutt, executive member for corporate resources, claimed that councillors needed to face up to the realities of the budget.

“This is where the cuts we have been forced to implement over the last three years are beginning to bite and, as the corporate director has said in her report, there are impacts on services,” he said.

“There are some very serious issues for all councillors to face over the next three years.

“I have seen press releases today which suggest we could make further cuts in administration which, quite frankly, is a load of rubbish.”

He reminded the meeting that £60million needed to be cut from the budget over the next three or four years and ‘the figures keep changing because the Government continues to have problems’.