Town and parish councils could be left in the lurch, it has been claimed, after changes to a key service were unveiled after they set their budgets.
Northumberland County Council is looking at changes to the working patterns of grounds maintenance staff, who carry out work such as grass and hedge cutting, as part of budget cuts for the year ahead.
The local authority says that the aim is to better match staff hours to the needs of the service and that it will be closely monitored.
But it is understood that the Northumberland Association of Local Councils (NALC), which represents the town and parish sector, has raised concerns about the potential impact of the changes.
In cases like this, town and parish councils may wish to pay for their own services to top up the county council’s offer.
But given that the county council requested details of the precept – the town/parish proportion of the council-tax bill – by the end of January, local councils will not have been able to include provision for any additional services in their 2019-20 budgets if hours are cut next winter.
Labour’s Coun Scott Dickinson said: “Our parish and town councils meet and plan for the future, but it seems the county council, not content with coming in at the 11th hour, waltz in after midnight and say they’ve changed their plans.”
A Northumberland County Council spokesman said: “The council is proposing changes to the working patterns for its grounds maintenance staff so that they are better matched with the needs of the service, with staff working slightly longer hours in the busy grass-cutting season and shorter hours over the winter period.
“This change isn’t expected to result in a noticeable reduction in the environmental standards or the look of local areas and it will be closely monitored.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service