Tories slammed for voting against council budget

Scott Dickinson
Scott Dickinson
  • Capital investment of £350million formed part of the budget
  • Labour criticism that refusal would have jeopardised key schemes
  • Tories describe proposed council HQ move as ‘white elephant’

A Labour politician has hit out at his Conservative counterparts for voting against the county council budget, which included capital funding for a number of schemes in north Northumberland.

Northumberland’s Conservatives have come under fire after their decision to vote against the budget last week, which would have seen £350million of capital funding for schemes such as the rebuild of the Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick and the Crag End landslip works, near Rothbury, scrapped if they had been successful in their attempt to derail the two-year budget, for which no alternative had been put forward.

Residents won’t forget local Tories putting politics before people come May

Scott Dickinson

Scott Dickinson, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Berwick and business chairman of Northumberland County Council, said: “In public, local Tories, led by their prospective parliamentary candidate (PPC), say they’re in favour of policies like the Living Wage and the capital investments across north Northumberland such as broadband rollout, yet they vote against them in the council chamber.

“Seventeen Tories tried to derail investment in schemes like the Crag End landslip yet their PPC tried to take credit for the Labour decision to commit extra funds. That’s called rank hypocrisy and residents won’t forget local Tories putting politics before people come May.”

At the meeting, Conservative leader Peter Jackson explained his reasons for voting against the budget, describing it as cloak and dagger as the administration ‘is not being straight about a lot of the cuts it is making, some of which will hit the most vulnerable’.

Coun Jackson did say the Conservative group agreed with a range of efficiencies across the authority and also conceded that the capital programme of investment contained some sensible items.

However, he expressed grave concerns about what were described as reviews to certain key services, saying that he doesn’t see how the amount of money necessary can be saved in the fire service other than by closing fire stations, likewise the library service.

Also, he pointed out that the capital spending will take the council’s debt to close to £1billion, which means that in future the council may be spending 20 per cent of its revenue budget servicing that debt, with interest rates certain to rise at some point in the future.

The proposed move of County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington continues to be a thorny issue too, but a Tory motion, by Coun David Bawn, to remove around £20million of funding for either relocation or refurbishment of the council’s HQ from the budget was voted down. Prior to the meeting, the Conservatives had set up a large, inflatable white elephant near County Hall to ram their point home.

The opposition was assured that the budget allocation was for either relocation or refurbishment and that there would be plenty of further opportunities to discuss the merits of the move.