Northumberland councillor brands call for equal spending across county's towns 'absolutely ridiculous'

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A Northumberland councillor has said calls for equal capital spending across the county’s ten largest towns are ‘absolutely ridiculous’.

Speaking at a meeting of the North Northumberland Local Area Committee, Conservative councillor Jeff Watson said money had to be spent where it was needed.

The cabinet member for healthy lives was responding to comments from opposition members that suggested some towns could feel hard done by due to differences in capital spend in recent years.

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A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Local Democracy Reporting Service in October found that there was a £62m difference in the spend between Ponteland and Prudhoe since 2017, when the Conservatives took power at County Hall.

Cllr Jeff Watson.Cllr Jeff Watson.
Cllr Jeff Watson.

At Thursday’s meeting, council leader Glen Sanderson defended his administration’s expenditure, pointing out it was higher than the spend by the previous Labour council.

It should be noted that Labour were in power for four years between 2013 and 2017 as opposed to the six years in office for the Tories covered by the FOI. Furthermore, the figures used by the leader did not take inflation into account.

Speaking at the meeting, Independent Group councillor Georgina Hill, who represents the Berwick East ward, said: “I have been supportive of budgets previously, even though I haven’t agreed with every line. I have recognised the tough decisions that have to be made.

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“I also recognise that Berwick has done very well with the capital programme since 2017. However, will there be colleagues in Bedlington, Prudhoe and Rothbury who look at the budget and say ‘we haven’t had a fair deal’?”

Coun Watson commented: “Each town doesn’t get 10%. It is where the money is needed.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. Why would you spend the amount in a town that has an older school compared to one that has a brand new school?

“Amble is getting a new school and SEND [Special Educational Needs and Disabilities]provision. When it comes to Berwick, I’m sure we will do the same.”

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Responding directly to Coun Hill, Coun Sanderson added: “I’m pretty sure I’m right in saying we have either spent more, or the same in all of the those villages and towns.

“In Bedlington, we’re working on a Bedlington town deal and we’ve sent money on the country parks with new children’s play areas. We’re spending the same, or very close to the same – sometimes more – on all those towns that we’re talking about.

“I have got to spend your (the public’s) money where it is needed. For example, what’s the point of building a new leisure in Berwick or Morpeth, if there’s a new one?

“Bedlington has one of the best schools in the whole country. Bedlington is doing fine, we’re listening and finding money for it.”

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Coun Hill argued: “It’s not an exact science. What I’m saying is we need fairness.

“You speak to colleagues in difference places and they think they haven’t had a fair deal. I think there should be a starting point.

“I have sympathy for places with no capital spend for years – Berwick had sod all prior to 2017.”