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Councillor Crosby - Cut Council Waste

Bill Crosby

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Following the consultation on the Northumberland Line the County Council has launched another consultation on the budget proposals for 2021-22.  In the current financial year the Council is forecasting a modest deficit due to the additional and unexpected  spend linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further information on the budget proposals can be found in the link at the foot of this piece but I would also like to share my own views.  Like any organisation the Council can set a balanced budget by increasing its level of income or reducing expenditure.

Increasing income is always welcome but it very much depends on the source.  For example introducing car parking charges in areas that don’t have them is not something I would support.  Such a proposal or something similar would be totally unacceptable as it should not be residents that are milked as a cash cow given the rises in Council Tax in recent decades and the current challenging economic conditions.

What the Council needs to focus on is other ways to raise income such as the sale of assets that are  no longer required. These could be held by the Council or Advance Northumberland and would provide a boost to income that will help cover the extraordinary costs associated with coronavirus.

What the Council also needs to seriously look at is its own cost base and whether it simply needs to stop certain things or reduce what is delivered. Councillor Russ Wallace in a recent post highlighted that the Council has an ‘International Team’.

As a Councillor of three and a half years I have little knowledge of what that team does or of any benefits. Information online suggests “It will lead to the introduction of joined-up health and care in state-of-the-art facilities in China.”

Whilst this sounds extremely laudable is does beg a number of questions including why the second largest economy in the world needs investment from Northumberland for health facilities. More significantly whilst myself and Councillors Robinson and Wallace are fighting for the crumbs from the table for the town centre it is ludicrous that money is being made available halfway around the world.  I would therefore argue that this project should be placed under the microscope and if the benefits cannot be demonstrated to Councillors it should be scrapped.

Another pot of funding which is a cause for concern is the money that is made available to Councillors for small schemes. Whilst I endeavour to spend the £15,000 I receive every year in the best way possible I am not convinced that it has always been the case in previous administrations or in the rest of the County.

Under the former Labour administration I recall that money that should have spent in Bedlington ending up in Ashington. And just recently a Councillor from elsewhere tried to use the money for resurfacing works in his own street. Not only is that  fundamentally wrong but it is also the type of scheme that should be part of the Council’s core budget.

Reducing the allocation from £15,000 per annum to £7,500 will not only force all Councillors to think much harder but it would also  save up to half a million pounds per year.  That is a hugely significant sum which can be achieved for very little impact and should be looked at in any case given that some Councillors appear to stockpile the funding over 4 years then rush to spend it with questionable outcomes.

A final proposal is to freeze Councillor allowances for 2020/21.  The pay of MPs has been frozen as has pay in much of the public sector including local government. It is therefore inconceivable that Councillors should receive any kind of increase in such circumstances.

Please take part in the survey and put your views forward. In my opinion it is about cutting unnecessary costs rather than expecting residents to foot the bill that should be the Council’s focus.


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