War of words over market towns plans

Coun Peter Jackson, Conservative group leader on Northumberland County Council.
Coun Peter Jackson, Conservative group leader on Northumberland County Council.

A political row has developed over a council administration’s market towns initiative.

The Labour group’s decentralisation of services as part of the relocation of County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington will see hundreds of local authority jobs located in various towns, with plans for Alnwick announced last month.

But Conservative leader Coun Peter Jackson claimed it was his group which first proposed that more county council staff should be situated across Northumberland.

He said the recent centralisation of the council’s planning officers back into County Hall flies in the face of the administration’s claims, but if hundreds of jobs are going to market towns, this ‘completely wipes away any need’ for a new Ashington headquarters.

In response, a Labour group spokesman said: “Coun Jackson supported the previous Lib Dem administration’s ‘centralising plans’ at every budget and he’s opposed our decentralising plans at every budget since 2013.

“It’s the jobs and services out of County Hall which form the basis of the market towns initiative, so how does he square keeping County Hall and decentralising services and jobs to market towns at the same time?

“He should acknowledge that the council is seeking to make the best use of its resources after his Government set out plans to reduce our funding by over 80 per cent in the next three years.”

In response to these comments, Coun Jackson said: “It is only responsible for the Conservative group, as the main opposition to Labour in Northumberland, to continue to point out the wild capital spending of this administration on schemes such as the new Ashington building and its plans to increase the council’s debt levels by £400 million in the next three years.”