Council budget approved after heated debate

A lengthy and sometime lairy debate ended with the Labour administration at Northumberland County Council getting its budget for next year approved.

Thursday, 2nd March 2017, 8:49 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:00 am
County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.
County Hall, Morpeth, headquarters for Northumberland County Council.

The proposals, which will see £6million of revenue cuts in 2017/18 as well as £380million spent on capital projects, was signed off by the full council.

The total spending on capital projects over the next three years up to 2020 is more than £1.1billion.

The authority agreed in February 2016 to raise council tax by 1.99 per cent – the maximum without holding a referendum – again this year, while the council will also accept the Government’s offer to increase council tax by an additional three per cent for use on social care - a total of 4.99 per cent.

And while there was plenty of opposition, there was only one successful change to what was proposed – a stalling of the proposed £8.5million to the Alnwick Garden.

Earlier this month, the budget was introduced with a video highlighting some of the council’s aims and achievements – from investing in new schools and leisure centres to building new affordable homes, repairing flood damage and finding new sources of income, notably the development company, Arch.

But Lib Dem leader Jeff Reid questioned why the video didn’t have anything about the £6million cuts, the £20million cuts to come after that or the five per cent increase in council tax.

“You are not focused on the right things,” he said. “It’s diversion tactics from what’s really in here (the budget).”

Conservative group leader, Peter Jackson, accepted there were capital projects his group supported, but added: “It is quite clear that the enormous and increasing debts which have been built up over the last four years are the root cause of most of our problems,” he said, before going on to lambast Arch, which has ‘gone far beyond its original remit, becoming a virtual hedge fund, speculating many millions of taxpayers’ money on highly risky propositions’.