The row over the proposed move of the county council’s headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington rumbles on.
This week, Conservative group leader, Peter Jackson, wrote an open letter to the authority’s chief executive, Steve Mason, setting 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 in Ashington’.
He also criticised the lack of a full-council debate on this single issue and called for ‘a full external audit review of the whole decision-making process regarding the new County Hall project’.
‘I would only request that this is carried out by a senior audit partner with significant commercial experience’ he added. ‘I have outlined the main issues which need to be looked at, however, I look forward to reviewing all of the information line by line with the external auditor once the review is underway’.
Coun Jackson wrote: ‘Many members of the public across Northumberland have expressed fundamental concerns with regard to several aspects of the way that the new County Hall project has been commissioned.
‘With a construction cost recently rising to over £40million and a lifetime cost in excess of £60million for the building, it is only right that the council and taxpayers should be fully informed in an open and transparent manner about all matters leading to this important decision which will have repercussions on the council’s operations and finances for years to come’.
But council leader Grant Davey said: “Northumberland Conservatives are seemingly intent on wasting more public money, seeking further reviews of lawful decisions and they seem to be intent on trying to stop this Labour administration saving money that their Government has slashed from council grants.
“We’ve had the evidence and we’ve developed proposals which will see hundreds of jobs moved out of County Hall into our market towns. All we’ve had from Northumberland Conservatives is misleading claims backed by no evidence.
“They’ve had two attempts to call in the decision taken by cabinet yet they’ve failed to make their case, losing a democratic vote on each occasion. They’re being disingenuous by claiming they don’t have a forum to challenge this decision; they can always submit an alternative budget and tell us where they’re going to find the savings necessitated by their Conservative Government’s cuts.”
Cost claims and counter-claims
Coun Peter Jackson referred to a lifetime cost for the new HQ in excess of £60million. He also said there was ‘an unjustified claim’ that £12.38million would need to be spent on County Hall.
Coun Grant Davey said the £63.7million figure is misleading as it excludes both the capital receipt from County Hall and the savings resulting from the relocation of staff and services from existing Ashington premises into a new HQ. He added that over 25 years, it would cost £54.25million to stay at County Hall compared to £38.54million for the new HQ at Ashington.