What does Northumberland County Council cost taxpayers?

County Hall, Morpeth.
County Hall, Morpeth.

The total number of officers at Northumberland County Council earning more than £50,000 dropped in the last financial year.

The information forms part of the local authority’s draft statement of accounts for 2015/16, which are yet to be audited externally.

It shows that 254 employees received total remuneration of more than £50,000, down from 274 in 2014/15.

The top earner was chief executive Steve Mason, whose total remuneration was £198,947, or £221,590 including pension contributions.

There have been no bonuses paid to any of the senior officers in 2014/15 or 2015/16.

In terms of exit packages for those leaving the council, £2.34million was paid out, down from £5.93million in 2014/15, despite more people leaving (197 compared to 175).

The council paid a total of £1.53million in salaries, allowances and expenses to elected members during the year, up from £1.45million in 2014/15.

At the end of the financial year, the council had total debt of £638million and total investments of £192million.

The statement says: ‘During the year, the council repaid £102.74million of maturing borrowing and took out replacement short-term borrowing of £75million, along with £0.03million of long-term borrowing, in line with authorised limits. This resulted in a net decrease in total borrowing of £27.71million.’

The council is embarking on a three-year capital programme totalling £565.63million from 2016/17 to 2018/19 and £343million of this will be funded through borrowing.

Capital expenditure – on projects such as new buildings as opposed to day-to-day revenue spending – and the loans needed to fund this have long been a source of criticism of the Labour administration from the opposition Conservative group at County Hall.

This issue was raised in an anonymous letter which appeared in the Daily Mail last week and referred to the loan needed for the purchase of Cramlington’s shopping centre by Arch and claimed that the council’s loans ‘now add up to £1billion, none of which looks likely to be paid back’.

The county council has hit back at its ‘inaccuracies and unfounded allegations’, some of which are evident in the draft accounts.

The letter-writer said that the council ‘has just borrowed £82million from the Bank of England to buy our (Cramlington’s) shopping centre from a private company, Hammersons. They’re paying only two per cent on the loan and don’t intend to pay any of the capital back. How can they do that?

‘I’ve also been reliably informed that Labour-controlled Northumberland County Council’s loans now add up to £1billion, none of which looks likely to be paid back.’

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “The council has been made aware of a letter in the Daily Mail which contains a number of inaccuracies and unfounded allegations.

“The council’s development company Arch has acquired Manor Walks Shopping Centre both as an investment asset and to further develop the area.

“The council does provide finance to Arch on commercial terms. The council’s financial plans are available on the website.”

You can read the council’s draft statement of accounts for 2015/16 here.