Questions are being asked about Northumberland County Council’s ‘international department’ and the money being spent on it.
Concerns have been raised by the Labour opposition about what the council is spending on international projects, especially in light of repeated pledges that its new development company Advance Northumberland, the replacement for Arch, will not invest outside of the county.
However, the authority has hit back, saying that it simply has a consultancy service, which brings in much-needed money for the council and was introduced by the previous Labour administration in any event.
In response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request last October, the council said that it does not have an international department ‘but it resources the equivalent of approximately 2.25 WTEs (whole-time equivalents) as required and subject to availability, who have just started to explore the potential of international income-generating projects’.
It added that ‘no business case has been developed as yet’, which meant there were no current or projected budgets.
A response to a review of a refused FOI request last month set out that the council’s position ‘remains that it does not have an international business function’.
It added: ‘The council does, however, provide Northumberland-based management consultancy services in partnership with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. These services are provided through the role of director of international projects and system transformation’.
The latest accounts show that this director, Alison Joynson, who also served as the interim chief executive of Arch, was paid £145,000 (£172,000 with pension contributions) last year, although the post is joint funded with Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.
Meanwhile, chief executive Daljit Lally, whose salary is also jointly funded by Northumbria Healthcare, also receives an international allowance.
A council spokesman said: “Advance Northumberland is clearly positioned as a county-focused organisation which is committed to improving prosperity and delivering positive change to the people of Northumberland, generating investment and encouraging business growth.
“The council’s consultancy service, which includes local, national and international work, brings significant income into Northumberland.
“Our consultancy service, which was developed and agreed by the previous Labour administration, has no connection to Advance, it does not and cannot make investments, but generates income through the council’s partnership with external organisations.”
Coun Nick Oliver, the cabinet member for corporate resources, added: “The international consultancy was an initiative started by the previous Labour administration who it seems are intent to undermine it. Contracts will bring much-needed income into the council.”
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service