A crisis-hit council leading the battle against Government spending cuts has being told its message of despair is damaging the city.
Business leaders have told Newcastle Council it is time it did more to sell the city, rather than seeking to publicise the damage of ongoing spending cuts.
The warning by the North East Chamber of Commerce hints at a repeat of concerns made during 2013’s arts cuts when ‘doing a Newcastle’ became a phase used to indicate crude cuts to the cultural sector.
The business groups suggest that three years of complaining about the unfair way in which Government hands out budget cuts may be impacting on the region’s image in a similar way.
Firms who are reporting ‘healthy order books’ say constant debate on the issue threatens to ‘overshadow’ an emerging optimism about the city’s economic future.
In a letter to the authority, Jonathan Walker, head of Member Relations at the Chamber, said: “There is still a view held by many in the business community that much of the positive work being done in the city is overshadowed by the debate around the proportionality of government cuts.
“At times this is not helped by presentation of figures that can appear confusing and focus on spending reductions rather than a simple budget overview.”
Lib Dem councillor Greg Stone said the Chamber’s criticisms call into question whether the Labour-led authority is ‘business-friendly’.
He said: “These comments from the business community are diplomatically worded, but indicate real concern at the council’s lack of transparency in presenting clear budget information.
“There is also a sense of frustration that the council would rather complain about cuts than get on with making progress on the shared service agenda and supporting private sector employment growth.”
It comes as the council has to find £100m in spending reductions by the end of 2016. Council leader Nick Forbes said the cuts are politically motivated and any further reductions in 2015 would be a “hammer blow” to residents.
But the Chamber said the council should show a “more straightforward picture” and the focus must now shift to celebrating private sector growth.
Mr Walker said: “The council will continue to face a difficult funding situation for some time to come, and businesses recognise that this will undoubtedly change the way in which the council will be able to operate in the future.
“However, the organisation will continue to be a major economic driver of the area and must continue to explore ways of working with the private sector to support growth and enterprise; something the business community stands ready to support.”
Mr Forbes said: “While we do everything we can to breed confidence and success in Newcastle, there is no escaping the fact that the council’s revenue budget will be cut by as much as 40% by 2016.
“We are not the only council facing huge Government cuts, which is why we are lobbying Government hard through the Core Cities Group, the Local Government Association and the Association of North East Councils.
“Collectively we have a duty to do this, and I have a duty as leader to the people of Newcastle to raise the unfairness of the cuts with Government because the future of vital public services will be snuffed out if we don’t make our point clearly and firmly.
“I make no apologies for this, but I do repeat our commitment to be a good partner to our business community as we work together to create the conditions for growth.”