COUNTY HALL: Better uses for money

County Hall in Morpeth.
County Hall in Morpeth.

I read with interest councillor Peter Jackson’s open letter (News Post Leader, March 31) about the move of County Hall to Ashington. I’m afraid he has totally missed the point.

The audit report highlighted that no business case has been put forward and there are no strategic or financial reasons to relocate. It is, as the chief executive put it, a political decision.

Labour says this is an ‘invest-to-save’ project. The savings listed include rent on a building that the council itself owns so how is this a saving?

I find myself coming to the conclusion that this decision has more to do with political ‘one-upmanship’ than any desire to deliver sustainability for Ashington, or the council.

My administration decided to build a leisure centre/community hub in the centre of Ashington. That £21m investment was to create conditions that would attract private investment, which would complete the regeneration.

Councils do not create jobs, but they must provide the circumstances in which jobs can be created, and that can only be done by attracting private businesses to remain or start up.

The Labour party could not countenance the Liberal Democrats’ administration investing £21m in Ashington in four years, more than Labour had invested in four decades. Forty years of bad decisions cannot be removed by the spending of £34m of public money, including £2.4m for a car park.

I have seen a report that says that it would cost about £8m to revamp the current site and bring it up to the standard of a new building.

There are better ways of deploying the council’s considerable capital programme than by building a new HQ, which will stifle private investment in a town that has been crying out for it for decades.

Labour says the new building is all part of its plan to regenerate the market towns by spreading out council jobs more evenly across the county. Doing that does not depend on a new HQ building; it could invest in market towns any time it likes.

Recently, Labour had an opportunity to show its commitment to its own strategy by supporting the fire station in Haydon Bridge, which needed less than £40,000 to keep it open. It voted to close the fire station.

Labour says that moving County Hall was in its manifesto – so was the building of 1,000 affordable homes, a pledge that was quietly dropped when it abandoned three out of four schemes.

Building affordable homes would be a far better use of scarce resources and be of direct help to Labour’s much-vaunted plan to revive market towns.

Coun Jeff Reid

Liberal Democrat

Former Leader Northumberland County Council