Calls for external audit into council HQ rejected

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

Calls for an external audit investigation into the costs involved in building a new council headquarters have been rejected.

Opposition councillors say costs involved in proposals for the new £35m building in Ashington have risen over the last six months and wanted an explanation.

Speaking at an Economic Growth and Corporate Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting today (Wednesday), they said it was only right that the taxpayers were given a clear explanation in the costs involved for moving the headquarters from Morpeth to Ashington.

Coun Glen Sanderson said: “This is going to be huge capital costs to the council tax payer.

“The figures we are looking at today are very different to the ones we had in front of us six months ago.

“These figures are confusing for someone who does not deal with them every day, and it would challenge most members to go through them and understand them fully.

“The financial issue is that this building [County Hall] is yet to be proven to be unusable for the future, nothing says this isn’t fit to last another 25 years.

“Now would be a useful time to pause to get an independent view of the costings, split into a more easy to understand format so that we can see on summary.

“I think it would be a good idea to get a second opinion.”

Coun Gordon Castle added: “If this is to go ahead I would like to know that the costings have been subject to professional scrutiny.

“I think we would benefit from an external audit of the figures before a decision is made, why can we not have that?”

Paul Leo, head of strategic property, added that an external audit was costly and had not been carried out as one had not been requested.

Despite opposition, the committee agreed the recommendations which will go to the cabinet meeting tomorrow.