Council accused of playing Russian roulette with budget

COUNTY Hall chiefs have been given a deadline of Monday to present more than £20million worth of budget savings to the Conservative opposition, or face having their plans voted against.

In a withering attack on the Liberal Democrat administration, Tory group leader Coun Peter Jackson accused them of playing ‘Russian roulette’ with the authority’s finances by failing to table a detailed draft budget proposal less than a month away from the deadline for the coming year.

And if they fail to make good by Monday, he warned at a special press conference on Tuesday, his party – which holds the key to a budget being agreed – will vote against any cuts made as last-minute inclusions.

Coun Jackson said: “After the difficult budget negotiations of 2009/2010, Northumberland Conservatives have attempted to work with the Lib Dem administration to face this challenge as a united council.

However, despite repeated promises, the Lib Dems have still not produced a full draft budget proposal and we are now just one month away from the budget deadline.

“What makes this so serious is that the planned Lib Dem cuts that we do know about include proposals that Northumberland Conservatives will never accept.

“Some of the worst Lib Dem ideas target care for vulnerable elderly people, such as cuts to meals on wheels and hugely increased charges for home care.

“Cuts are proposed for key services such as the maintenance of our crumbling roads and youth services.

“Rural communities face death by a thousand cuts as services are scrapped, including mobile libraries.”

Coun Jackson added: “As the official opposition at the council, we cannot negotiate the details of a budget that does not yet exist.

“It is perfectly reasonable for us to expect to receive a draft budget in sufficient time to scrutinise it properly.

“Instead, the Lib Dems are playing Russian roulette with the financial stability of the council by leaving their budget plans to the very last moment.

“This is unacceptable and cannot continue.”

But council leader Jeff Reid accused Coun Jackson of ‘playing naked party politics’, saying the Conservatives had every opportunity to involve themselves in the budgetary process.

“The reason we have not got a full budget proposal, as Coun Jackson knows full well, is because we have not yet been given a full settlement by his coalition government,” he said.

“I’m bitterly disappointed that he thinks we can magic information up that has not been given yet.

“It shows a great lack of understanding of the very difficult situation the council finds itself in and it is impossible for us to try and comply with this mythical deadline he has set.”

He added: “This government has turned local authority finance on its head since it came to power last May.

“I’m just as concerned as he is that we haven’t yet managed to close the gap, but this is a pathetic attempt to distance himself from his own government’s decision on what has to be done.”