OPPOSITION bosses at a North East council last night criticised the authority’s leaders over a lack of information on its budget.
They accused the authority’s Liberal Democrat administration of failing to provide details of how it proposes to make £60m of savings ordered by the coalition Government.
Northumberland County Council must set its final budget next month, but the Conservative and Independent group says it is alarmed that it has yet to see the administration’s proposals.
The group has handed the Lib Dems a deadline of Monday to produce a breakdown of how the money will be saved. After that, it says, it will not support any of the proposals.
Lib Dem and council leader Jeff Reid last night hit back at the group, claiming the administration has been unable to come up with final figures as it still waiting to hear whether £27m of previously agreed government grants are to be paid. The council must find £110m of savings over the next four years, £60m of which is for the financial year 2011/12.
The authority is shortly to begin consultation on a savings package totaling £36.1m, with three debates to be held around the county next week.
It must also identify a further £24m of cuts.
But at a press briefing at Morpeth’s County Hall yesterday, CIG leader Coun Peter Jackson hit out at the Lib Dems for failing to provide his group with details of how they intend to address the £24m “black hole” with little more than a month to go before the budget is set on February 23.
He claimed council leaders have known since last May that they were likely to have to make up to £60m of savings, but alleged they have “buried their heads in the sand” and “left it to the last minute” to finalise the budget.
Coun Jackson claimed this was a result of “poor management and poor leadership.”
He added it was “not honest” for the authority to begin consultation on £36.1m of savings when it has to make savings of £60m. Coun Jackson confirmed his party must have sight of the final proposals before Monday, otherwise it will not support them.
He said: “I think it is only right that the Lib Dem administration should come clean with the residents of Northumberland about what they actually intend to do.
“It is a £400m budget and we can not consider those implications overnight.”
Coun Reid, who said the council has been held back because it does not yet know whether the government grants are to be paid, described the deadline as an “unrealistic ultimatum”, adding: “This is political posturing of the worst kind when Northumberland County Council and its residents are looking for political leadership.
He accused Coun Jackson of “playing these party political cards” and said he “should be ashamed of himself”.
Page 2 - City council to urge Government to ease funding squeeze >>
City council to urge Government to ease funding squeeze
CITY leaders will lobby the Government in a bid to ease a funding squeeze on services.
Newcastle City Council is faced with cuts and rising bills worth up to £50m over the next year and £100m over the next four years.
The council is looking to make around 1,000 redundancies over the next 12 months, with that figure rising to 2,000 over four years.
Today a report will go to a meeting of executive members, outlining the council’s response to the proposed cuts before the Government makes its final decision. Meanwhile, union members will stage a rally outside Newcastle Civic Centre to protest against the planned job losses.
The council’s executive member for resources, councillor Peter Allen, said: “The Local Government Finance Settlement for the next two years represents one of the toughest across the public sector and creates a significant funding shortfall for councils.
“We welcome some of the changes the Government has made to formula grant, but these are not enough to compensate for the reduction of special grants which is giving a better settlement to many better-off councils, and leaving the more deprived councils like ourselves worse off.”
The city council joins the other North East authorities expected to suffer a huge deficit in funding.
In terms of overall spending power, Newcastle is losing £98 per person, compared to the national average reduction of £49 per person.
Newcastle has lost money due to the coalition’s plans to abolish the Working Neighbourhood Fund Grant, which went to the most deprived areas to support neighbourhoods and help tackle unemployment. Union bosses have vowed to defend jobs and services. Kenny Bell, Unison branch secretary, said: “We understand the pressure on the council and that the blame rests with the Government, but Newcastle Council has choices.
“Unison is angry that despite the council announcing job losses, they have not said how they intend to manage the process and, in particular, that the council appears to be backtracking on the agreement reached to manage job losses in the past.”