Row over claims Northumberland communities 'being let down' due to service cuts

Labour councillors in Northumberland are highlighting issues which they say show the impact council cuts are having in the wake of a row over local services.

By Ben O'Connell
Sunday, 8th September 2019, 9:00 am
Updated Monday, 9th September 2019, 5:15 pm
Labour’s Coun Kath Nisbett by a fly-tipping site that it is claimed was first reported in December but only cleared this week.
Labour’s Coun Kath Nisbett by a fly-tipping site that it is claimed was first reported in December but only cleared this week.

The opposition group is publishing pictures of fly-tipping and overgrown weeds, which they claim show ‘how communities are being let down’.

This follows a motion put forward by Labour at a full council meeting on September 4, which was substantially amended by the Conservative administration before being passed.

The Neighbourhood Matters motion, proposed by group leader Susan Dungworth and seconded by deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson, called on the council to adopt a local services champion and endorse the campaign from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) for fair funding.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Overgrown nettles on a walkway and cycle route in Cramlington.

It also highlighted the need to raise awareness about how local services can be preserved for future generations and that local services being lost or delivered at the most minimal level is ultimately damaging to communities and a false economy, while calling on the Government to provide fair funding.

Introducing her motion, Coun Dungworth said: “I think it’s important that we just take this opportunity through this APSE motion to recognise the importance of local services to our residents and the people that provide those services.

“Good-quality public services matter to us all, wherever we live in Northumberland, whatever our circumstances, and they matter to us from the moment we’re born until we die, from cradle to grave.”

But council and Conservative leader Peter Jackson responded: “There are statements in the motion which you haven’t talked about that mean many of us in this room will find it difficult to agree to it.

“It would be wrong of me not to mention how big a role local services play in our county and how we’ve been struggling to rescue quite a number of them since Labour left us such a mess two years ago.

“What I would suggest is that the Labour leadership actually go around this county and see what a fantastic county this is and see what a fantastic job the people that work for this county council do in each and every community.”

He proposed an amended motion which called for the council to ‘note that local services are essential to the health, wellbeing and viability of local communities’ and that these services delivered at neighbourhood level are ‘all highly valued by the public’.

It added: ‘This council, and each and every member of it, recognises and applauds the officers and staff within Northumberland County Council local services and the high quality of their work throughout the county.’

Coun Dungworth recommended that her group supported the amendment, because ‘we don’t have the numbers in this chamber and if we don’t do so, you will go out and say the Labour group does not support local services and our workforce’.

“I’ve been around long enough not to fall into that elephant trap,” she added. “We will support it, but we will use our influence and office outside of this chamber to fight for that fair funding, and improved funding and recognition of local services and local services employees.”

After the meeting, Coun Dungworth said: “People working in local services are some of the most dedicated and hard-working going. They have been soldiering on, going above and beyond to try to make up for the devastating cuts to their department.

“The Tories have been burying their heads in the sand about the impact these cuts are having in communities.

“People need to be able to rely on roads being fixed, streets being cleaned and that social care services will be there when people need them. This is not happening in our county.”

However, during the debate, Coun Glen Sanderson, the cabinet member for environment and local services, said: “What doesn’t help is when we have members standing up complaining about issues that they could easily sort out themselves if they continue to act as proper representatives of communities.

“I’m more than happy to come to any parish council, I go to plenty of parish councils and of course there are times when we can’t help. Of course, there are areas that we can’t help with sometimes if they are beyond the budgets we have already agreed.

“But there are opportunities for you to put forward schemes within the Local Transport Plan and using your own members’ schemes.

“So don’t please talk down local services, support them and support the people that work for us and do such a fantastic job.”