Councillors agree to £18.7m budget cuts

BUDGET cuts of more than £18million have been approved by councillors.

Northumberland County Council’s Executive has agreed £18.7million of savings in areas such as transport and neighbourhood services, with £4.7million this financial year, as part of the full budget approved in February.

But the Conservative opposition has expressed a number of concerns, highlighting cuts of £300,000 in concessionary fares, £250,000 from community buildings and plans to generate an extra £547,000 from the parking strategy. It was discussed at a meeting of the council’s Economic Prosperity and Strategic Services Scrutiny Committee earlier in the day and certain aspects, such as parking strategy, will return to that group before a final decision is made.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Northumberland Conservative Group Leader Peter Jackson said: “This latest round of cuts is a further example of the Lib Dems favouring residents of urban south east Northumberland. The decision to cut £350,000 from public transport, in addition to cuts to concessions for elderly people and school children, unfairly targets people in rural areas who rely on these services most.

“The decision to increase parking charges in Alnwick, Berwick, Hexham and Morpeth, by £547,000, will further disadvantage rural residents who must drive to town in the absence of sufficient public transport.

“Once again, the council is using rural Northumberland as a cash cow to subsidise free parking and investment in Blyth and Ashington. When are we rural taxpayers going to get a fair deal?”

After the meeting he criticised the administration for not taking the issue to the full council.

“It is nothing short of a scandal that the Lib Dems are refusing to debate this latest package of cuts at full council,” he said.

“They have purposefully excluded the most painful cuts from the formal budget process in February in order to avoid democratic oversight of their decision to increase parking charges and dramatically cut funding for rural transport.”

But Council Executive Member for Corporate Resources Andrew Tebbutt said councillors needed to face up to the realities of the budget.

“This is where the cuts we have been forced to implement over the last three years are beginning to bite and, as the corporate director has said her report, there are impacts on services,” he said. “There are some very serious issues for all councillors to face over the next three years.

“I have seen press releases today which suggest we could make further cuts in administration, which, quite frankly, is a load of rubbish.”

He reminded the meeting that £60million needed to be cut from the budget over the next three or four years and the final figure could be more. The county’s Labour Group was also critical of the way the budget has been handled.

Leader Grant Davey, said: “Some of the cuts in this second budget will directly effect ordinary people immediately and begin a programme of social change.

“These charges will fall on church halls, community centres, youth groups, schools and charitable organisations in the form of drastically reduced assistance and increased charges to handle waste. Community centres will also be hit by the removal of grant aid.

“Huge cuts in school crossing patrols, home to school transport, concessionary fares, supported rural bus services and the introduction of the dreaded parking policy show that the fabric of life for Northumbrians will be challenging in the future.”