POLITICS: How we are improving your county

My thanks and congratulations to all who took part in the Tall Ships Regatta '“ a universally-acclaimed international advert for the many benefits of living, working and investing in this great county.

As the vessels headed to Gothenburg it was obvious there is now, appropriately, even more clear blue water than before between the Can Do county council administration that was instrumental in the festival’s success and the Won’t Do whingers embodied by current Tory leader Peter Jackson (Northumberland Gazette, August 25).

Opposition is meant to be constructive and on behalf of all voters – not destructive, to benefit only an increasingly out-of-touch clique.

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Coun Jackson’s fact-free rants do nothing to promote Northumberland nor to help its hard-working residents. He is the Moaning Minnie infamously visualised by his one-time party leader Mrs Thatcher here in the North East in 1990.

MOAN – where the county council works hard to source low-cost investment for improving residents’ lives and safeguarding hundreds of jobs (eg Manor Walks shopping centre), Coun Jackson chooses to see only ‘huge debts’. Is that what he also calls his Conservative government’s borrowing and rising interest repayments?

MOAN – he falsely claims ‘libraries are being closed’; we are re-equipping them for 21st century customers and, where necessary, re-siting them in locations that are far more convenient with longer opening hours, such as the one-stop shops for multiple council services that we are establishing in your key market towns. Libraries are disappearing in other counties, such as in Tory-run North Yorkshire.

MOAN – there’s no £80million ‘palace for councillors’. The time is long overdue for Coun Jackson to stop talking down both Morpeth and Ashington. The accessible, compact and efficient town centre new council HQ will house staff providing key services directly to the public and boost spending in Ashington, while returning hundreds of frontline jobs to the heart of nine market towns. World-leading auditors Ernst & Young independently approved the plan, a fact Coun Jackson chooses to ignore, and the £16million freed by not having to shore up the crumbling current building will be re-invested for the whole county, while bringing new developments to Morpeth too. Interestingly, the scheme was NOT opposed by Tories at the planning vote.

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MOAN – the so-called ‘political’ hoardings publicising the investments in towns county-wide actually use traditional Northumberland red and yellow; other council branding is coloured blue – does that somehow promote Coun Jackson’s Conservatives?! The messages are as recommended by an external council ‘inspection’ team, led by a titled Tory peer, incidentally. She said we had to communicate ambitious plans for the county more effectively to residents.

MOAN – we are not responsible for ‘massive asset stripping’. Empty and outdated council-owned properties, some inherited from earlier regimes and others now in the wrong place for serving residents in 2016, are being refurbished and put to new, income-generating use eg the 200-year-old Northumberland Hall in Alnwick is now a stylish venue for weddings and other events, while Hexham House is being sympathetically restyled into holiday apartments, providing more funds. Some surplus sites are being sold to generate fresh investment. Again, positive steps from a forward-thinking Labour administration, unlike the years of lack of action from Coun Jackson when he chaired a council body charged with making the most of such properties. And again, an innovative approach as suggested by the government of Coun Jackson’s party.

He even rejects a £57million injection into local schools and leisure facilities for residents in his own ward in the incorrectly-labelled ‘forgotten’ rural part of Northumberland as well as a garden village project that would provide funding for the much-needed Ponteland bypass. The Garden Villages scheme was brought forward by, yes, Coun Jackson’s own Conservative government.

For him and his misguided supporters, it’s Just Say No to everything. No plans for jobs, No ideas for new homes, No fresh education opportunities and No improvements to residents’ health and lifestyles. Not once in three years of opposition have Northumberland Conservatives brought forward an alternative budget – they prefer to keep voters in the dark.

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This administration’s leading the way to more money and more jobs via regional devolution is, by contrast, the perfect example of how Labour, supported by the more realistic elements of other parties, will work with all bodies including central government that put the interests of Northumberland residents first. We won’t be derailed as we work hard to secure and create jobs for everyone in the county, not just the chosen blue few.

We’re focused only on making this great county even better – Coun Jackson is just bitter.

Councillor Grant Davey,

Leader of Northumberland County Council