Northumberland County Council round-up

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

Capital expenditure by the county council is significantly below the original estimate for the financial year, according to the mid-year review.

The report for the period from April 1 to September 30 shows that while capital expenditure for 2017/18 was originally estimated to be £381million, the mid-year position is just £57million, which would result in a total of £119million for the year.

The council’s debt has risen from £761million at the start of the financial year to £826million at September 30, although the weighted interest rate has dropped from 2.84 per cent to 2.72 per cent.

The report adds: ‘In light of the ongoing review of the capital programme and potential reduction in levels of capital spend going forward, it may not be necessary to borrow again during the remainder of 2017/18.

‘It is projected there will be an overall saving of around £1.27million against the original interest payable budget for 2017/18 of £23.66million.

Meanwhile, the county council is expecting to see a surplus in terms of collecting both council tax and business rates for the year ending March 31, 2018. The council-tax surplus is estimated to be £3.68million, while the business-rates surplus is estimated to be £2.04million.

The council-tax base for 2018/19 has risen, by 1,520.99 band D equivalents this year to 102,668.69.

• Northumberland County Council has set out how it has responded to criticism of its children’s social-care services following an upheld complaint.

In October, we reported that the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman had criticised Northumberland County Council for failing to assess vulnerable young children at risk of harm following an investigation.

At the time, the council said it was ‘reviewing the report so any further action we need to take can be put in place as soon as possible’.

This week, a report to Tuesday’s meeting of the county council’s cabinet updated members on the four ombudsman recommendation and how the authority had tackled them.

Two of the four requirements were completed by November 3, another was completed earlier this week and the final issue will have been tackled by next Friday.

• Northumberland County Council is to enter into a pooling agreement with the other local authorities in the North East to fund the region’s Enterprise Zones (EZs).

There are now seven EZs in Northumberland out of 21 in the North East LEP area; four in Blyth and then one each in Ashington Berwick and Morpeth.

Granting EZ status for these employment sites means the businesses receive either discounted business rates or enterprise capital allowances for a limited period.

Infrastructure and intervention costs needed to develop the sites can be funded from the Business​ ​Rate​ ​Growth​ ​Income (BRGI), but in most cases will require borrowing.

Each of the seven local authorities in the North East LEP area have been asked to enter into an over-arching pooled BRGI agreement in order to provide a transparent and consistent approach.

• A ground-source heat pump is set to be installed at Wooler’s retained fire station. As part of the ongoing programme of invest-to-save work to install the systems in council establishments, the decision-making cabinet signed off £88,000 for the upgrade in Wooler this week, plus £79,000 for Haltwhistle. Funding of £4.5million was also allocated to increase pupil capacity at four schools, two in Blyth, one in the Seaton Valley and one in Morpeth.