A Government spokesman has said the Labour-led administration at Northumberland County Council ‘will have to answer through the ballot box’ over their controversial plans to move County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington.
However, Lord Ahmad, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State from the Department for Communities and Local Government, also said that such decisions are for councils themselves, which ‘should consider the potential savings to taxpayers’.
As previously reported by the Gazette, Lord Vinson of Roddam asked the Government whether they have made, or intend to make, representations to the county council about that authority’s plans to relocate its headquarters.
Responding on behalf of the Government, Lord Ahamd said: “We have made no such representations as such decisions are for councils themselves. If Northumberland County Council has decided to relocate its headquarters, they will have to answer through the ballot box for the decision and the impacts it will have on the people of Northumberland. Councils should consider the potential savings to taxpayers from better property management, while also carefully considering the public’s access to frontline services.”
The relocation plans are included with the authority’s budget plans, which go before the full council on Wednesday.
The Conservative Group has launched a campaign: Say no to Labour’s £40m white elephant, with leader Peter Jackson describing it as ‘the biggest waste of money in the history of Northumberland County Council’.
However, Labour and council leader Grant Davey again described the £40million price tag as disingenuous at this month’s policy board, pointing out that that total includes running and maintenance costs over a 25-year period, which would be incurred wherever the HQ was.
Consultants ERS calculated that moving the council’s headquarters to Ashington would bring a positive economic impact worth £52.8million to the town. At the same time, releasing the current County Hall site for development would give Morpeth a positive economic impact worth £56million.
Northumberland County Council’s lead executive director, Steven Mason, said: “The difference in running costs in keeping County Hall in Morpeth compared to a number of other locations is marginal, but when the overall economic impact of the relocation is taken into account the case is very strong.
“The council will require a different approach to office working and office space over the next four years. We anticipate that officers will work more flexibly from different locations around the county, bringing our services and staff closer to communities. There will be opportunities to develop office space with ‘touch-down’ and shared space across the county. Fewer workstations will be needed at the corporate headquarters.
“Importantly, money saved on property can reduce the impact on services of the challenging council budget reductions that have to be made in the coming years.”