We can certainly blame Osborne’s excessive cuts and the vindictiveness of Eric Pickles for giving the new management of Northumberland County Council the excuse for coming up with the cunning plan of abandoning County Hall, but it’s a short-sighted mistake, even if there aren’t ulterior motives.
Yes, building (up to 2,000, but no doubt many less in practice) houses on the grounds might raise some millions to alleviate the immediate cuts, though not fast enough to actually save even further decline in services in the short-term.
Of course the empty field up there could be built on, raising enough but not needing any change to County Hall.
Perhaps County Hall isn’t fit for a modern office block, even if it looks pretty solid to the rest of us, and needs £10million to upgrade it.
But the mothballed ex-district offices are nearly all in a desperate state, requiring pretty much the same amount to make them usable at all.
Hundreds of redeployed staff will have to have the extra travel mileage to work paid for several years (Morpeth to Berwick, say, or Hexham and back in the worst cases).
It’s blatantly obvious how more efficient it is to have staff under the same roof. Many departments need to work together closely, in real time.
This can be partially alleviated by very good communications, but repeated cuts and management changes to the County’s IT department have compounded the original poor IT links to existing outlying offices.
I gather one department temporarily relocated to a distance waited over a year for properly functional computer links, while Berwick has never had decent communications.
Without a lot of investment, which they won’t be able to make, the service will deteriorate seriously - that is the future for council tax payers.
Demolishing County Hall would be of course a gross waste of a purpose-built facility even if the alternatives were actually viable.
We can be certain that the new County Council will have to reject Morpeth’s soon to be submitted Local Plan, which requires (for very sensible reasons) there to be no further mass housing south of the River Wansbeck. NCC’s cunning plan contravenes this. The appeals will go on for years.
Some towns will gain a handful more people working and possibly shopping there, but the unbalancing of Morpeth will be enormous.
It’s tempting to think that this may be a motivation for some of the elected proponents of this scheme – the revenge of Blyth Valley Borough Council and others?
We can expect in reality many surviving council staff will wind up in expensively rented accommodation on industrial sites in the south east.
Place your bets where council meetings will be held.
As to staff morale, when was that ever a consideration?
COUNCIL TAX PAYER,
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