A political row has blown up over the cost of providing free residents’ parking ahead of the county council elections next month.
The Liberal Democrats have called on the Tories to ‘come clean’ over a potential budget shortfall of £4million if they stick to their pledge to not raise council tax.
But Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland Conservatives, has accused council leader Jeff Reid of ‘scare tactics in a desperate attempt to shore up support for his failing Liberal Democrats’.
Coun Reid said: “The Conservatives cannot have it both ways. They cannot say they want to freeze council tax and offer £4 million-worth of ‘free’ parking without telling us how they’re going to pay for it.
“It looks suspiciously like they have not bothered to cost their so-called manifesto, which reads like it was written on the back of an envelope one night in Berwick’s Conservative Club.
“The only way the Conservatives can pay for this is by cutting services or hiking other charges - like the 60 per cent hike in meals on wheels the Conservatives in Cumbria have whacked vulnerable people with.
“Either way, they need to come clean about their plans and end this damaging uncertainty.”
But Coun Jackson has hit back, saying: “It is a shame that Coun Reid has had to resort to scare tactics in a desperate attempt to shore up support for his failing Liberal Democrats.
“If he had consulted his officers then he would have been told that he is grossly exaggerating these figures.
“As he well knows, the Conservative plans for free parking for residents has been appraised by the Council’s officers in a formal report which his own Liberal Democrats rejected.”
Referring to the costs of running empty and underused council buildings, he added: “To pay for all of this residents in Alnwick and the surrounding area are having to suffer the burden of car parking charges and this has to stop. “It is, in effect, double taxation on the rural areas of our county which is being used by the Liberal Democrats to shore up their vote in their electoral heartlands of Blyth and Wansbeck.
“I am appalled that the Liberal Democrats are so disconnected from the needs of local residents, from the needs of towns such as Alnwick and oblivious to the unfairness of this extra tax on rural people who have no choice but to use their local town.”
Coun Reid said the Lib Dems were responsible, adding: “If the Conservatives are serious then they need to be honest about what they’ll cut to pay for their promises.”