COUNCIL: Make cuts at the top first

I am writing in response to M Wright's letter, (News Post Leader, March 17).

Thursday, 7th April 2016, 6:00 am
County Hall, Morpeth. REF 2008145303

The correspondent is quite right to complain that cuts to local services by County Hall are, at least in part if not wholly, due to the austerity measures imposed by central government, but that view is rather too simplistic.

It is my view that whilst cuts may be necessary to meet budgetary requirements, the savage cuts imposed by County Hall are the easiest option, hitting the most vulnerable in society, and the council can then place the blame on the austere measures imposed by the chancellor.

There are many things County Hall could do to mitigate the worst of those cuts.

For example, the average salary for the senior management team at County Hall in 2012-13 was just over £85,000. The then chief executive Steve Stewart was paid nearly doubly that on £170,324.

By the year 2014-15 the average salary for the team had risen to £101,420 – a rise of over £16,000.

This increase exceeds the pay of many people living in south east Northumberland.

Steve Stewart left his post in November 2013 as the council no longer deemed it necessary to have a chief executive.

By 2015 Steve Mason was appointed as chief executive at a salary of nearly £185,000, no doubt enhanced by undisclosed pension arrangements – an increase of £15,000 on the previous chief executive.

I have no doubt many of your readers would love to have a salary of £15,000 a year, let alone an increase.

Whilst I accept more realistic salaries paid to executives may not make a significant hole in the annual budget, it would make a start.

By reducing the average salary to £50,000 a year, which is still over three times the salary in south east Northumberland, the council could save nearly £1m a year.

These highly paid executives seem to come up with the most bizarre schemes to use public funds.

Take, for instance, the roundabout in Laverock Hall from Blyth to Cramlington.

The council, through its arm’s length company Arch, caused traffic mayhem from October to February by installing a roundabout.

The only exit is to a road which cannot be used by normal traffic. So what was the point?

Apparently, parking enforcement now costs us all a whopping £1.8m per year.

Has the council done such a good job managing traffic that it’s worth so much?

Taking the potential savings on executive salaries and eliminating the cost of civil enforcement officers, nearly £3m would be available to provide services to the most vulnerable.

As local taxpayers we should be asking County Hall how many other similar projects could have been rejected and what impact would that have had on the overall budget?

Would the savage cuts the correspondent alludes to really have needed to be so draconian at the expense of the most vulnerable in our community?

T Thepes