Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Blackmail' Charge Laid against County; Council Chiefs Upset by Letter over Services

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

'Blackmail' Charge Laid against County; Council Chiefs Upset by Letter over Services

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Black

ANGER has erupted after grass roots councils across Northumberland were asked to rescue valued local services that are facing the axe under a pounds 110m cost-cutting drive.

Scores of town and parish councils have been told that unless they agree to take over a range of duties from County Hall this year, the services could be significantly reduced or even scrapped completely. Yesterday, county council bosses were accused of trying to "blackmail" their town and parish colleagues into saving threatened services at the 11th hour.

The unitary authority is facing the budget cut over the next four years and pounds 60m must be found in 2011/12.

Services that it now wants town and parish councils to take over from April include youth provision, parks, playing fields and playgrounds, community centres, litter collection, grass cutting and public toilets.

A letter from County Hall says it is a "realistic possibility" that a number of services will either reduce or stop altogether, unless they are taken over.

Town and parish councils would have to increase their own spending to accept the extra responsibilities, but they are being warned that the alternative is to risk losing valued services.

Yesterday, Ashington Town Council chairman John McCormack said the approach was being made far too late in the day by county council leaders, and services such as youth provision had never even been mentioned before.

He said: "Meaningful discussions which we were promised about taking over services have not happened and now, at the 11th hour, we are given an ultimatum to say either we start paying for these services or the county council will start cutting them.

"That is unacceptable and we are not going to be blackmailed into taking over these services.

"That doesn't reduce the financial burden on the taxpayer, it just reduces the burden on the county council.

"In effect, people would be paying twice for services because we would have to levy a rate to pay for them. We have always said we are prepared to talk about this issue, but are angry about the total lack of meaningful consultations. …

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