COUNTY HALL: Axing move threatens all

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I have read with growing concern recent statements from Northumberland’s Conservatives that they intend to scrap plans for a new council headquarters if they are elected next May, which will put the whole market town initiative in jeopardy.

As business chairman of the council, a key part of my role is to ensure funds are being spent and invested wisely, and in these times of Government imposed austerity, looking at every possible way we can save money.

It would seem the Conservatives don’t share these views. Maybe they have an alternative plan to save the county millions, they just haven’t got round to sharing this idea with anyone else?

The bottom line is that staying in the current crumbling council headquarters will be a blow to jobs and investment across the county. Surely that benefits no one?

The County Hall move forms a key part of our market towns initiative – reinvesting in towns across Northumberland, locating services together to create council ‘one-stop shops’, getting more staff into local communities and selling off surplus property and land we no longer need.

Remember, the current Government only values a Northumberland resident at ten per cent of our neighbours and gives no provision for rural pressures.

Residents should be able to access our services as conveniently as possible and not be forced to trek to County Hall in Morpeth. From Berwick and Alnwick in the north and across to the west in Hexham and Prudhoe, the Northumberland Labour group expects several hundred jobs to be created in these towns – a mixture of council staff and private sector businesses.

And while the council won’t be responsible for all this growth, we have a key role in encouraging investment and getting local economies moving by showing commitment to these towns, like we have already.

The new, smaller, cost-efficient headquarters is going to save this authority £16million over the next 25 years, helping to protect frontline services. The move was agreed through the normal democratic process and has even been through an independent audit. It forms part of a bigger programme, which is ultimately aimed at generating about £369million for the regional economy.

The Conservatives’ announcement to abandon these plans sounds to me more like plans to abandon the future hopes of our county’s towns. Maybe they should consider telling their own members who have welcomed and supported these plans in places like Alnwick.

Even the LibDems welcome planned investment for Berwick so is it only the Morpeth Tories who seem to hold the ‘no to everything view’ at the peril of all other towns under their apparent demolition of local government and services for the most vulnerable in society.

I wonder if this internal split will see Independent candidates, former Tories, maybe putting the interests of the towns they represent first?

Coun Scott Dickinson

Business Chairman

Northumberland County Council