Cuts, spending and council-tax hike in Northumberland go to the vote

Northumberland County Council’s Conservative administration is seeking approval for its budget later today – but Labour has unveiled an alternative.

By Ben O'Connell
Wednesday, 20 February, 2019, 09:53
Northumberland County Council

The full council meeting will be debating the authority’s detailed budget for 2019-20 as well as its medium-term financial plan for the next three years, with proposals for cutting £25million out of the required savings of £36million – including £12.8million in the coming year.

Ratepayers will be doing their bit with council tax to increase by 2.99 per cent – the maximum allowed by the Government without a local authority holding a referendum, plus a further one per cent ring-fenced for adult social care.

Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of Northumberland Labour Group.

But this doesn’t mean that there won’t be investment in the county, with a significant £589million of spending lined up.

Despite being a minority administration, the Tories’ budget is expected to pass with the support of some of the independents at this afternoon’s meeting.

However, the Labour opposition earlier this week revealed that it has been working on what it describes as a ‘costed, alternative budget’ as a different approach to the current leadership’s ‘failures and broken promises’.

Unveiling their budget proposals last month, Conservative and council leader Peter Jackson said: “We’ve worked tirelessly over the past year to balance our books and we’re confident we’ll be delivering a deliverable but ambitious budget.

“We’ve always had bold plans and this budget will help support a thriving local economy and deliver value for money for all the communities we serve.”

Flagship projects include new leisure centres in Berwick and Morpeth, a new enterprise zone in East Sleekburn, extra car parks, progress on what is now called the Northumberland rail line and new schools in Hexham and Seaton Delaval.

Coun Jackson added: “As a snapshot, over the next three years, we’re looking to spend £142million on our schools, £60million on regeneration projects, £44million on improving our leisure offer and £43million on housing.

“We’re also supporting an ambitious five-year housing investment programme which will see £22.5million of new investment in council housing which we know is desperately needed.

“We’re already making huge strides in terms of improving education standards, attracting new investment and delivering on an ambitious North of Tyne devolution deal and this progress will continue.”

But there are also far more controversial measures in the budget, such as the recently-approved cut to council-tax support, which means everyone will have to pay something towards their bill from April, and the changes to home-care charges that will see some people having to pay more.

Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of Northumberland Labour Group, said: “Peter Jackson and his cronies talk a good fight, but they have huge questions to answer over the astonishing lack of progress since they took control of the council.

“They’ve completely clocked off on projects like the Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Newbiggin developments.

“The lies they continue to peddle that Labour got them into this mess is complete myth. Their excuses are running thin and the public is losing patience.

“Instead of trying to blame Labour, the Tories need to put their promises into action. People in Northumberland deserve better.”

The Labour group’s alternative budget pledges to:

Use your money properly, dealing with the swingeing Tory cuts in Northumberland. We would prioritise money where it’s most needed;

Our costed plan is different to the Tories’ – we would protect our most vulnerable by not increasing care charges and restore the council-tax support for those that need it;

We would protect the Youth Service for young Northumbrians;

Maintain the cost of waste collection to reduce fly-tipping and encourage recycling;

Build low-cost rental homes in areas of need through Advance Northumberland;

Support those in need by ensuring proper investment is provided to support low-paid workers and families claiming Universal Credit.

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service