Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Olive Branch Offer in 'Blackmail' Row; Council Leader Insists Issue Was 'Misunderstood'

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Olive Branch Offer in 'Blackmail' Row; Council Leader Insists Issue Was 'Misunderstood'

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Black

ABITTER row over a threat to the future of local services in Northumberland communities took a new twist last night after a council leader offered an olive branch.

Angry town and parish councils have accused the county council of 'blackmail' after they were warned that some valued services could be axed unless they agree to take them over.

The Liberal Democrat-led unitary authority told the smaller councils just before Christmas that services could be significantly reduced or even stopped altogether if they failed to accept the transfer. Letters sent out from County Hall listed grass cutting, parks and play areas, litter collection, community centres, public toilets and youth provision among those at-risk.

The county said it might not be able to continue providing the services in light of having to make budget cuts of between pounds 45m and pounds 60m this year, and pounds 110m over four years.

Parish and town councils reacted angrily, saying the request had come too late in the day to allow them to make decisions and claiming the move would mean people paying twice for the same services.

Last week The Journal revealed how the row had intensified after the smaller councils were sent a further letter detailing the costs of the services involved. Some claim they would have to dramatically increase their council tax precept if they were to take on any of the services.

Now county council leader Jeff Reid has promised that this year's budget will not include any proposals to reduce or remove the services detailed in recent letters. He said: "It has never been our intention to impose the delivery of services onto parishes, or that residents would be charged twice for services.

"However, I understand there has been some misunderstanding of the issue, and I have spoken to many parish councils to understand fully their concerns. …

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