Coun Peter Jackson described them as ‘something that’s been neglected for a long time’ as he highlighted the item from the authority’s spending plan during a debate on the proposed budget for 2020-21.
Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for local services, said it was a ‘fantastic announcement’, underlining that this was additional money to the annual Local Transport Plan.
However, the Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, said it wasn’t a new announcement as the funding is already in the budget papers, also criticising the lack of detail and saying that the £7.5million-a-year represented ‘a drop in the ocean’ compared to what’s need to sort out pavements across the county.
The comments came during a meeting of the council’s corporate services committee on February 10, with next year’s budget also going to cabinet this week to be signed off by the administration before it goes in front of the full council for final approval on Wednesday, February 19.
It includes savings of almost £10million, but Coun Jackson said: “This budget is not about cuts. Many local authorities in the region are moaning about cuts, but funding has increased this year.”
“This is a budget about managing demand,” he added.
Coun Reid raised concerns about the number of ‘reviews’ and ‘efficiencies’ referenced in the documents, again criticising the lack of detail. He also pointed out that even though last year’s budget set out three years’ worth of savings, covering up to 2021-22, this year’s only provides figures for 2020-21.
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate services, said that this was because ‘it’s a moveable feast’, agreeing that setting out three years of savings was not necessarily the best way forward.
Moving onto the capital programme, Coun Reid highlighted the ‘inconsistencies’ between previous programmes and actual expenditure.
Coun Oliver stated that this was mainly about delivery time-scales for major projects and requirements such as seeking planning permission. He added that it was better to have the funds in the budget and then roll it over if necessary than for a project to be ready early without money earmarked for it.
Coun Reid suggested this pointed to ‘underlying chaos’, but Coun Oliver said it was actually ‘underlying prudence’.
Next year’s budget includes a council-tax rise of 3.99% – 2% ring-fenced for adult social care and a 1.99% general increase, which is the largest permitted by the Government without the local authority holding a referendum.
Given that there are still £10million of savings proposed, Coun Reid said that one year the leadership should decide what level of council tax it actually needs and then put it to a referendum.
In addition to this increase, a 1.99% rise to the Northumbria Police element of residents’ council-tax bills, equivalent to 22p more a month for a band D property, was confirmed by the Police and Crime Panel last week.