Councillor calls for Arch group to be disbanded

A Berwick councillor has called for Arch, Northumberland County Council's development company, to be disbanded.

Thursday, 20th October 2016, 12:34 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 18:22 pm
Georgina Hill

Cllr Georgina Hill has also compared the controversial organisation to ‘unscrupulous and reckless bankers’.

The self-styled transparency campaigner is standing as an Independent for the Berwick East division in next May’s Northumberland County Council elections.

She has also called for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat members of Arch’s board of directors to resign in protest over the way it is being run by the Labour administration.

Cllr Hill said: “Residents, across Northumberland, increasingly see that Arch are rotten to the core. Combining the worst excesses of private sector, speculative, development and the waste, inefficiency and rampant cronyism associated with the worst of the public sector.

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“Rather like the unscrupulous and reckless bankers, who did so much damage to this country’s economy, they are gambling huge sums of public money, with all the risk being borne by local taxpayers who appear to get little, or no, benefit from all these dubious transactions and apparent ‘investments’ especially in the northern, market towns like Berwick.”

She added: “This Labour administration have lent or given tens of millions of pounds to this disreputable body, including bankrolling the purchase of a shopping centre for over £78million in Cramlington whilst cutting funding for children to get to school and putting lives at risk through cutbacks to the fire service.”

The board of Arch includes the leader and deputy leader of Northumberland County Council, Grant Davey and David Ledger, their fellow Labour county councillors Allan Hepple and Gordon Webb and the leaders of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat groups, Peter Jackson and Jeff Reid.

Cllr Hill continued: “I can understand why the opposition leaders may have felt, initially, that they were better off fighting from the inside for reform and a better deal for the north of the county, but it is clear that this is not going to happen and they should distance themselves and their parties from this rabble and include pledges in their election manifestos for Arch to be scrapped.”

However, Cllr Hill has been accused of lacking factual basis for any of her accusations against Arch and the county council.

A Labour group spokesperson said: “This latest series of slurs and increasingly desperate attempts to ‘muddy the waters’ comes as no surprise from a Conservative councillor who has infamously sought to divide her town council and has a less than proud record of delivering any real positive change for Berwick.

“Just as Northumberland County Council has investments that deliver a return to the taxpayer like Newcastle Airport, Arch delivers a return to the council taxpayer as well as a massive contribution to both the economy and social well being of the county. Arch provides a direct financial return to the taxpayer which helps protect the services provided by the council and the jobs local people rely on.

“She seems to have ‘forgotten’ Arch has invested over £6million in Berwick over the last few years. She’s forgotten that it’s her party in Northumberland which agreed and set up Arch when they were in coalition with the Lib Dems and she’s forgotten it’s her party that is trying to stop the council moving services out of Morpeth and into the market towns of Northumberland like Berwick. She’s ‘forgotten’ that she’s campaigned to stop hundreds of jobs being retained or created in Berwick.

“She really should change the record and try to add something positive to Berwick. She’s doing the town a great disservice through her slavish adherence to her party’s ‘Say No to Everything’ campaign.

“If she really has concerns about how Arch or the county council are operating that go beyond her bland party politicking then she should raise them through the appropriate channels. She could even raise them with her leader Cllr Jackson, who is a director of Arch, instead of using the Berwick Advertiser to spread what amounts to unsubstantiated slurs and innuendo.”

Arch’s current commitment to Berwick comprises the redevelopment of the former Kwik Save building on Walkergate into offices, the revamp of the Cowe Buildings on Bridge Street, the refurbishment of the old Post Office in Woolmarket, and industrial units.