COUNCIL: Putting our county first
My thanks and congratulations to all who took part in the Tall Ships Regatta '“ a universally-acclaimed international advert for the many benefits of living, working and investing in this great county.
As the vessels headed to Gothenburg it was obvious there is now more clear blue water between the Can-Do county council administration that was instrumental in the festival’s success and the Won’t-Do whingers embodied by current Tory leader Peter Jackson (News Post Leader, September 8).
Opposition is meant to be constructive and on behalf of all voters, not destructive to seemingly benefit only an increasingly out of touch clique.
Coun Jackson’s fact-free rants do nothing to promote Northumberland, or to help its hard-working residents.
Where the county council works hard to source low-cost investment for improving residents’ lives and safeguarding hundreds of jobs, for example Manor Walks shopping centre, Coun Jackson chooses to see only “huge debts”. Is that what he also calls his Conservative government’s borrowing and rising interest repayments?
He claims “libraries are being closed”.
We are re-equipping them for 21st century customers and, where necessary, re-siting them in locations that are far more convenient, with longer opening hours, such as the one-stop shops for multiple council services that we are establishing in your key market towns.
There’s no £80m “palace for councillors”. The time is long overdue for Coun Jackson to stop talking down both Morpeth and Ashington.
The accessible, compact and efficient town centre council HQ will house staff providing key services directly to the public and boost spending in Ashington, while returning hundreds of frontline jobs to the heart of nine market towns.
World-leading auditors Ernst and Young independently approved of the plan, a fact Coun Jackson chooses to ignore, and the £16m freed by not having to shore up the crumbling current building will be reinvested for the whole county, while bringing new developments to Morpeth too. Interestingly, the scheme was not opposed by Tories at the planning vote.
The so-called “political” hoardings publicising the investment in towns countywide use traditional Northumberland red and yellow; other council branding is coloured blue – does that promote Coun Jackson’s Conservatives? The messages are as recommended by an external council inspection team, led by a titled Tory peer. She said we had to communicate ambitious plans for the county more effectively to residents.
We are not responsible for “massive asset stripping”. Empty and outdated council-owned properties, some inherited from earlier regimes and others now in the wrong place for serving residents in 2016, are being refurbished and put to new, income-generating use.
The 200-year-old Northumberland Hall in Alnwick is now a stylish venue for weddings and other events, while Hexham House is being sympathetically restyled into holiday apartments, providing more funds. Some surplus sites are being sold to generate fresh investment. Again, positive steps from a forward-thinking Labour administration. And again, an innovative approach as suggested by the government.
Coun Jackson even rejects a £57m injection into local schools and leisure facilities for residents in his own ward in the incorrectly-labelled “forgotten” rural part of Northumberland, as well as a garden village project that would provide funding for the much-needed Ponteland bypass. The Garden Villages scheme was brought forward by the Conservative government.
For Coun Jackson and his supporters it appears to be ‘just say no’ to everything. No plans for jobs, no ideas for new homes, no fresh education opportunities and no improvements to residents’ health and lifestyles. Not once in three years of opposition have Northumberland Conservatives brought forward an alternative budget.
This administration’s leading the way to more money and more jobs via regional devolution – the perfect example of how Labour, supported by the more realistic elements of other parties, will work with all bodies, including central government, that put the interests of Northumberland residents first.
We won’t be derailed as we work hard to secure and create jobs for everyone in the county, not just the chosen few. We’re focused only on making this great county even better.
Councillor Grant Davey
Leader of Northumberland County Council