COUNCIL: Give us value for money

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I have seen the architect’s impression of the new Northumberland County Council headquarters in Ashington, estimated cost £37million, without restructuring or relocation costs.

I estimate the building cost will be £45million-plus.

Meanwhile, there is a road that leads to 15 properties, including my own.

This was scheduled to be resurfaced eight years ago.

It was not done due to lack of funds.

Now residents have been advised that funds should be available for this work in two years’ time.

I am not political, I am a just a frustrated taxpayer.

The council does not need to spend £37million on new headquarters, plus the costs for restructuring, moving into a new building and office furniture.

This is self-indulgence.

Selling the existing headquarters in Morpeth is sensible as it is nearly the size of the United States senate.

Making best use of resources and funds on behalf of taxpayers and providing services is the function of all councils.

Is spending £37million-plus on a new head office the best application of resources and funds?

Is the council purchasing commercial properties in times of austerity the best application of resources and funds?

This is viewed by many taxpayers as totally inappropriate.

Assets look good on a balance sheet.

However, councils were created to provide services, they were not created to acquire assets.

The council progresses these extravagant initiatives while reducing local services.

Furthermore, it has announced that it will be increasing taxpayers’ charges at a rate above inflation.

Twelve miles down the road, North Tyneside Council has too much office space.

It has the same high-cost infrastructure as Northumberland.

The same applies at Newcastle Council.

The county council’s head office is the size of some FTSE 100 international companies.

Should it not share resources with other councils to reduce operating costs and share best practice?

The savings it forecasts this office move will make are insignificant in comparison to other options.

Its infrastructure can be housed anywhere in Northumberland, even to commutable Tyne and Wear.

The council could support this downsizing with well-staffed advice centres, using existing council town centre buildings.

These centres would be easily accessible and improve communication and administration with taxpayers.

It appears to me that suggestions made to the council from its customers/taxpayers are generally seen as interference, obstructive or an intrusion on time, therefore they are generally ignored.

A recent example includes installing traffic lights in Morpeth town centre, a scenario where the council thought it knew better than 10,000 residents who petitioned for the removal of the lights as they caused serious congestion. This dragged on for more than 12 months.

There is also the proposed construction of out-of-town shopping on the site of the existing council premises when there are many vacant retail premises in Morpeth town centre.

Sadly, it is my belief that the culture and history of leadership at Northumberland County Council is that of believing it knows what is best for the customer/taxpayers without consulting them.

The council appears to be managed along the lines of a financial/administration department, rather than a customer focussed, efficient, effective service provider.

It is time for the council to revisit its business goals.

Set deadlines that must be adhered to and admit when it makes a mistake and do a u-turn, rather than spend time and money trying to justify it.

All councils should start a new culture by developing a hate of bureaucracy, have a passion for quality, and remind themselves every day ‘what is it I am paid to do?’

Michael K Hoppins