The deputy leader of Northumberland’s Labour Group has said the budget of the Tory led council is largely smoke and mirrors.
Scott Dickinson, who is also shadow cabinet member for children’s services at the council, said: “Let’s be absolutely clear this is a smoke and mirrors budget that moves majority of difficult decision making to after the local elections in May. Not only that but it is hidden behind a twisted capital scheme headline and penalises the most vulnerable in Northumberland.
“In the middle of a pandemic, where it will take residents and services years to recover, they level the largest cuts at adult and children’s services. We have seen all year at every twist and turn the need for us to fight to get children in particular the deal they need, whether it be free school meals or digital support. U-turns have happened in the council but only at our intervention.
“They continually defend political spend nearly £400,000 on toilets which could run a small department within the council. They are looking at slashing education and skills or careers support and advice which at this time should surly be a priority. Young people need hope, support and care to come out of this pandemic and find work, education and skills. They need to know that life is bright and possibilities are out there, young people’s mental health especially this week in Mental Health Week should really be a focus and focus the minds of leaders, but clearly not.
“They tell us that social care will get the money it needs while levelling an increase in council tax and levy to local residents, but at the same time slashing social care at the back door.
“They propose to remove £2m from one team that works on independence which is something we should really be boosting not cutting. They’re taking £400k from Telecare services; the red cords that people pull in their properties when they need help. We want absolute reassurance that this service won’t impact users’ ability to get the help they need nor will we be turning into the Tory Council from down South that charges elderly people when they fall……remember those headlines.
“The capital budget is a fudge and a hidden lie. Earlier this year for instance, the cabinet removed the capital spend on James Calvert Spence College and Seaton Valley Federation, yet here in this budget they chuck a nominal fee in and levy the rest of the budgets in multiple years after the election. This is election trickery at its worst.
“Last year we were told a late amendment for Berwick too but here we are a year on and no mention of Berwick. They’ve already delayed many of these schemes by four years and are now pretending, through creative presenting, to suggest they are still on the agenda. You can’t have it both ways and hope that the public won’t see it because there is so much heartache and anxiety in the world today.
“And more than £20m million is just listed for third party loans. These are similar figures from previous years. In brackets it says these are to companies like Advanced Northumberland. At the current time would that be wise? This is public money that needs to be paid back. They are already about to hit £1bn pounds worth of borrowing; the highest the council has EVER seen. This is hundreds of millions more than was borrowed when Labour was in control.
“We are appalled at the budget target areas. We are saddened that the capital arrangements are less than truthful in our opinion. We will be holding urgent meetings with the council’s executive officers to seek further advice.
“We have little or no confidence in the ability of the council’s leading politicians to do anything properly at present, and this appears to just be another example of that.”