Friday, 19 January 2018

Tory decision on County Hall will saddle future generations with 'outdated building to match an outdated council'

New revelation shows cost to 'fuel County Hall' will be massive £3m per year compared with £400,000 for Ashington hub

Tory proposals to give County Hall the 'most expensive lick of paint in history' have been branded 'the thin end of the wedge' by Labour group leader Grant Davey. The decision to halt the move to Ashington will be one of a number of issues investigated by the county external auditor EY over the next year as it was revealed that the costs set aside by Cllr Peter Jackson, the leader of the Tory group who also leads the council have started at an 'eye watering' £17m despite Cllr Jackson claiming 'County Hall only needed a lick of paint' in the run up to last May's elections. It also emerged that Tory claims of the cost for the new Ashington hub were 'grossly misleading' and labour are warning the costs to exit the Ashington Portland Park contract could top £10m over the coming years.

The new HQ planned at Ashington was a state of the art building with built in energy saving devices like ground source heat pumps which would cut the cost of the building to £400,000 and now Cllr Jackson has revealed that the cost of the old County Hall will be £3m per year.

Cllr Grant Davey, leader of the Labour group said

"After claiming inflated costs and pie in the sky figures of Labour's new HQ in Ashington, the Tories are having to face up to the truth despite trying to spin their way out of the facts. Now we know it'll cost at least £17m to 'update' County Hall which was branded by independent assessors as 'not value for money', it'll cost at least £9m and rising to get out of the Portland Park contract with the council confirming they do not expect to agree terms on that contract in the foreseeable future and at least £12m over the next 4 years to heat County Hall. Labour's plan to move to Ashington would have been profitable for the council after year 4 and the Tory 'lick of paint' plan will saddle future generations with huge running costs for at least 20 years. The reality is that Tory decisions like this, scrapping Arch and scraping the core strategy have created a £65m black hole in council finances.

The County Hall decision by Cllr Jackson must be the most expensive 'lick of paint' in the history of the county and it'll be residents who pick up the tab with an 8% plus council tax rise in just the next two years".

 

 

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Anger over veil of 'secrecy' at County Council

With the Conservatives state of the area debates doing the rounds complete with useless information, and no base data to ‘prove’ the source of the £65M black hole the Tories have created themselves since May 2017, Councillors from the administration are running out of scare stories which in some cases, they've been peddling for 8 months, in other cases, they've become a bit of a scary obsession for some councillors.   

In this weeks Courant, new and ambitious Councillor Nick Oliver (who is rumoured to have close links with his local MP) has hypocritically waxed lyrical stating “It is important we are open and transparent as possible as we progress with this process.” Wonderful and possibly admirable, if it wasn’t for the fact reports have been printed in the Times two weeks running, in the Chronicle,Courant and Northumberland Gazette with stories based on the confidential information contained within the ARCH review which was undertaken by the Tories own private investigator (we wonder how much he's costing the taxpayer?).  

The leaks to the press through leaking information that other Councillors are not yet aware of including most Conservatives from the Tyne Valley and the North of the County, is disturbing and very 'dark'. The Tory inner circle of their 'secret society' is simply chugging along regardless, creating innuendo to cover up the financial mess they have decided to saddle the taxpayer with. We say 'decided' and 'saddle' purposefully because its Tory decisions taken by their Cllrs that is creating the council's black hole.
Decisions like starting up 'phantom' departments, halting the move from County Hall, stopping the Portland Park contract in Ashington, scrapping the core strategy and opening up the 'developers paradise', paying off senior officers and worst of all scrapping Labour's plans to save £30m without any plan to put in its place. We've not even mentioned the 8% rise factored in for council tax over the next two years. Is this maladministration or is it just plain incompetence from a Tory team?
 
It seems the Tory nirvana is to recreate 'Castle Morpeth' district council (a council that struggled financially and had its own penchant for police investigations). Witchunts and dodgy dealings seem to be the order of the day amplified by their dedicated and worshipful band of social media groupies. Innuendo and falsehoods complete the 'toxic' mix.  

What ever it is, it falls outside of the constitution of the Council and we must remember the constitution is the bedrock of the Council. Northumberland Tories are proving that they can’t be trusted with confidential information, taxpayers money and the truth.  

 Nonetheless they have decided, just like Castle Morpeth Council, to steer the ship onto the rocks and they are ducking and diving to hide the truth under their claim to be the 'most transparent council in the country' just because they don't want to be criticised for their poor financial handling of the Council. If you doubt their 'Trumpian tongue' compare this statement by Cllr Jackson, a man with so many secrets, he tries not to open his mouth when speaking.
 
He said in June 2017 that the outgoing head of finance and CEX of Northumberland County Council, Steve Mason had left a ‘Strong and Stable’ organisation which left the new administration in a good position to implement its policies. Now he says the same man left a £65m black hole. We suggest it can't be both can it?

The whole veil of secrecy is extremely bad for democracy and it's bad for the taxpayer. 

 

Friday, 12 January 2018

£26M and Rising Conservationvative Decision to Halt the Move from Morpeth

Northumberland’s 'secret society' other wise known as the Con/Indy party in County Hall have revealed the current costs of their chosen route of stopping a £32m new building at County Hall. This has been forced out into the open after a number of FOI requests. The shocking truth is Cllr Jackson's merry men and women have revealed they will spend £17m on refurbishing outdated County Hall and they've spent £9m wrangling so far to get out of contracts at Portland Park in Ashington. The Portland Park contract settlement has not been reached so it's likely to rise.  

These costs were predicted by Labour before May's election and readers may remember the three 'horseperson's of the Tory apocalypse' - Wearmouth, Jackson and Bawn regularly rubbishing Labour's claims which now turn out to be accurate predictions. So accurate the council's Auditor has said that next year's audit will include the decision to halt Portland Park.

County Hall Morpeth was looked at by a number of experts, it was pointed out that the ceiling heights in this unsightly building are too low to contain the wiring and equipment required in the current digital age and that wireless signals are difficult to transport within the office environment due to the high level of steel used in its construction.

The building has an ornamental copper roof and the staff working on the top floor provide buckets and umbrellas at their own cost now the Conservatives are in power to catch the rain pouring in on them.

The last Labour administration brought in and published expert opinion on why County Hall should be bulldozed and used for other purposes. The Circus stars are hell bent on spending taxpayers cash year on year keeping this pile standing up and have stated the costs of doing so, so Labour Group demand that Peter Jackson gives the ratepayers of our County the opportunity to view the stock condition survey that makes up this cost.

So how does the Tory decision to halt the new HQ and spend £26m (and rising) to do it affect residents directly?  

The circus act of Leader Peter Jackson and his ‘financial wizard’ Councillor Nick Oliver of Corbridge have shown in their £65m black hole presentation which is currently packing them in at area committee's around the county that they haven't lost their knack of 'spinning' the facts. So when they claim £65m black hole left by the previous administration, they forget to mention a) the base budget was sound (Pg7 Auditors Report), b) no material misstatements (Pg. 9) and c) and this is worth quoting verbatim for accuracy "our audit work did not identify any material issues or unusual transactions to indicate any misreporting of the Council’s financial position"(Pg.9).

Another statement by the council auditor is worth quoting verbatim - A 'significant risk was attached to the phasing of savings and that £30 million of savings were required in the final two years of the financial plan. Through discussion with management we noted that there are currently no firm plans in place for achieving this £30 million as, following the change in administration, all existing savings plans are being reviewed' Pg.26 Auditor Report).

So the Tories scrapped Labour's plans to save £30m over the next two years and now have no plans to save £30m creating a 'significant risk'.

They also forgot to mention that the previous CEO who was also the Finance Director and looked after the budget was given a glowing reference by Cllr Jackson on 24th May. This is worth repeating verbatim too for accuracy - Cllr Jackson thanked the previous CEO "for leaving a strong and stable organisation which would give the new administration time to agree new priorities"

So how could the accusation that Cllr Jackson was "shocked and stunned" finding the black hole be true if he was telling the truth about his fulsome praise of the previous CEO, the £26m bodge job for County Hall, scrap Labour's plans to save £30m after savage government cuts, the decision to scrap Arch and forego the Arch dividend of £4.8m, scrap the Core Strategy, hire a new part time CEO, payoff the former CEO and launch the lavishly funded witchunts that are now the trademark of the new administration.

These decisions cost money Cllr Jackson and these decisions mean that residents will see near 8% rise in their council tax over the next two years and they'll see you try to reintroduce parking charges, shed jobs and services, sell off council assets and force up parish and town council precepts. 

There's £65m reasons to look closely at Tory decisions in 8 short months. If the first 8 months is anything to go by then residents and businesses in Northumberland will have a 'taxing time' as we run up to 2021.   


 

WE WOULD HAVE INCLUDED LINKS TO THE REPORTS COMMISSIONED BY LABOUR BUT THEY HAVE MYSTERIOUSLY DISSAPEARED FROM THE COUNCIL WEBSITE?? 

 

TORY DECISIONS THAT HAVE COST TAXPAYERS £64.085M SINCE MAY 4TH

 

This contains Cllr Jackson quote on Steve Mason who was allowed to leave under cover of compromise agreement.


 

£65m Black hole

 

Cost of Tory decisions since 4 May

1.     Scrapping Labour business plans for savings - £30m (It's in the EY report) 

2.     Stopping move from County Hall - £12m to update over course of MTFP (next 4 years)

3.     Halting Portland Park project and contract - £9m (and rising)

4.     Scrapping Arch dividend - £4.8m (It's on the Arch website) https://www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/how-it-works

5.     Scrapping Core Strategy - £1.1m (it's in an FOI)

6.     New Core Strategy - £1m (estimated more likely to increase)

7.     Steve Mason pay off - £1m + (published in Hexham Courant)

8.     New deal for 2 day per week CEO - £185,000

TOTAL = £64.085M

Shortfall - £0.915m is this the cost of the secret investigations into Arch and the council?


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Tory cabinet member Glen Sanderson will soon be embarking on a tour of Northumberland's market towns.

Towns like Morpeth, Berwick, Hexham, Alnwick, Blyth, Ashington, Bedlington Cramlington, Prudhoe, Newbiggin and more all see the economic benefits from free car parking. Car parking was the standalone issue at the 2013 local elections and thousands of residents signed petitions demanding free parking in their town. Labour delivered it within 6 months.

But now free car parking is in danger. Cllr Sanderson will 'consult' with town and parishes to see if they want to reintroduce paid car parking to solve traffic management problems, real or invented, by the Tory coalition at County Hall. Remember Northumberland Tories have halted Labour's plans to build multi storey car parks in places like Cramlington, Morpeth and Hexham which would have alleviated traffic problems especially in Cramlington.

This is a coalition which now says it's facing a £65m black hole in the council finances and it seems the motorist is being asked to fill the void. Not only will the motorist face paid parking in the county again, residents will see their council tax go up by 2.99% every year for the next two years and a1% surcharge for adult social care for the next two years too.

In just 8 months of this Tory administration they've racked up £65m black hole. Even the external auditor highlighted the risk of £30m savings which have no plan. It's down to Tory decisions now though.

It's clear that Northumberland residents face a 'taxing time' over the coming years to pay for 8 months of Tory mismanagement.

For those of you who are interested, here's a little list of what we know about Tory mismanagement since 4 May. There's a lot we don't know given the Tories love of secrecy in their 'secret society'.

  

£65m Black hole

 

Cost of Tory decisions since 4 May

1.     Scrapping Labour business plans for savings - £30m (It's in the EY report) 

2.     Stopping move from County Hall - £17m to update County Hall in Morpeth over course of MTFP (next 4 years)

3.     Halting Portland Park project and contract - £9m (and rising)

4.     Scrapping Arch dividend - £4.8m (It's on the Arch website) https://www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/how-it-works

5.     Scrapping Core Strategy - £1.1m (it's in an FOI)

6.     New Core Strategy - £1m (estimated more likely to increase)

7.     Steve Mason pay off - £1m + (published in Hexham Courant)

8.     New deal for 2 day per week CEO - £185,000

TOTAL = £64.085M


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Northumberland Tories Create a £65M Black Hole in Eight Months

At this evening meeting of the Ashington and Blyth Area Council, Peter Jackson the Leader of the Minority Tory administration on Northumberland County Council alleged that the council faced a £65m black hole and revealed a 2.99% rise in council tax. The Conservative led administration also announced a 1% rise for adult social care. The rises will last two years meaning residents will see bills rise by nearly 8% over the next two years.


Labour hit back citing the recently released council auditor report by EY which raised concerns about the lack of planning for £30m cuts. Labour also highlighted Conservative decisions which have racked up at least £29m of unnecessary spending and lost revenue, and called for an independent investigation into Tory decisions since 4 May.  

His figures were challenged by the Leader of Northumberland Labour Group Grant Davey as "a crude attempt to cover up dodgy decisions since May and he went on to accuse the Tories of ignoring the auditors report released in the last week. He went on to say that" all members in attendance have access to the external auditors statement and letter to Council and that the governments external auditor to the Council was satisfied that the base budget was correct. Yet you have displayed figures without last years comparable figures being made available for all to see. What are you trying to hide?"

He then said I "will take you back to May this year and remind you of your opening speech to Council".

"Cllr Jackson, you thanked Steve Mason for leaving a strong and stable organisation which would give the new administration time to agree new priorities"

"Are you telling us that officers of the Council mismanaged the accounts and have kept information from the external auditor"?

"Or are you saying that your decisions since May 2017 have led to the dreadful financial position you describe? Residents have a right to know given your report tonight states that jobs and services are at risk so it's time to stop hiding and spinning and come clean with Northumberland".

Notes

This contains Cllr Jackson quote on Steve Mason who was allowed to leave under cover of compromise agreement.


 

£65m Black hole

 

Cost of Tory decisions since 4 May

1.     Scrapping Labour business plans for savings - £30m (It's in the EY report) 

2.     Stopping move from County Hall - £12m to update County Hall in Morpeth over course of MTFP (next 4 years)

3.     Halting Portland Park project and contract - £9m (and rising)

4.     Scrapping Arch dividend - £4.8m (It's on the Arch website) https://www.archnorthumberland.co.uk/how-it-works

5.     Scrapping Core Strategy - £1.1m (it's in an FOI)

6.     New Core Strategy - £1m (estimated more likely to increase)

7.     Steve Mason pay off - £1m + (published in Hexham Courant)

8.     New deal for 2 day per week CEO - £185,000

TOTAL = £59.085M

Shortfall - £5.915m - is this the cost of the secret investigations into Arch and the council?



Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The country's most 'transparent council'.......NOT..... A growing problem of the 'Dark Democracy' project in Northumberland' 'secret society' at County Hall


On 25th May,2017 Northumberland got a new administration which claimed it would be the 'most transparent council in the country'.

That was obviously an aspiration because in practice, what the residents of Northumberland have got is a 'secret society'.

Within days of the election result the county set off on a path which has involved 'secret investigations' into Arch and into the former administration all based on a premise that there must have been something corrupt. No evidence has been tabled so far despite months of lurid gossip and leaks from a council which has slipped into maladministration territory.

Some have said its out of control and its hard to argue with that after the latest example of the secret council in practice.
Yesterday, Corporate services scrutiny committee had tabled a report which has been hidden from public scrutiny by the imaginative excuse of 'commercial sensitivity'. It discussed the move of 200 jobs from Ashington to Dudley in North Tyneside. 

No consultation with staff or their trade unions, no involvement in the report by Northumberland officers with Newcastle City Council officers putting forward the case to move 200 jobs in revenues and benefits out of Northumberland. No discussion of the economic impact on Ashington which is already reeling from the Tory decision to ditch 1000 jobs desperately needed to boost Ashington.

Today Tory cabinet led by Cllr Peter Jackson, a man with so many secrets, he won't open his mouth when he speaks nodded through the decision to strip Ashington of 200 jobs.
So much for transparency - staff in the dark and elected politicians in the dark - residents in the dark.

They've refused to come clean about the disastrous decision to remove the core strategy, using and abusing council officers who have raised concerns. The council is actively circulating 'fake news' to confuse and mislead residents. I'm sure it will come as a shock to the good people of Ponteland that the Dissington Garden Village which both the MP and Cllr Jackson have taken credit for stopping will almost inevitably go ahead because of the removal of the core strategy.  

Northumberland is well known for its 'Dark Skies' project but it now faces a 'Dark Democracy' project led by Mr Secret Cllr Jackson and ably assisted by the so called 'Transparency Campaigner' Cllr Georgina Hill and her rabble of trolls who is supposed to be the independent chair of the council's Audit Committee.
Opposition members are being starved of information while Northumberland Tories seek to fatten the council up for their long term of selling off great swathes to their friends in the private sector.

This is all being done in the 'dark' by a small group of Tories helped by a smattering of misguided 'independents' and most importantly, it's being done TO the people of Northumberland not WITH them.

Shame on them.  

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Where’s the 400 Jobs for Cramlington?

It will come as no surprise to readers that the 'secret society' that is Tory run Northumberland County Council has decided to parcel up hundreds of council jobs and secretly slip through a major policy announcement under the cover of the Christmas holidays. The Tory scrutiny Chairs will be the first councillors to see the secret privatisation plans at their Overview and 'scrutiny' committee meetings in January. The 'commercial report' is just the latest attempt by the Tories to live up to their pledge to be the most transparent council in the history of transparent council's You'll detect the heavy sarcasm given their record so far.
A mysterious 'International Department', 'secret investigations conducted by private contractors and 'secret deals' around the removal of the core strategy.
So we'll pull back the curtains somewhat and let you see the history of a Tory sell out to Newcastle costing Cramlington hundreds of valuable jobs.
During 2015, Newcastle City Council were advised to seek a partner to help them deliver a better and more productive revenues and benefits service. What better than to befriend highly rated, Northumberland, whose second largest town sits on the edge of Newcastle and develop a joint working relationship on a publicly accountable basis.
Especially considering that the neighbour runs a top rated service, delivering a package to a number of London Boroughs some individually larger than the City of Newcastle.
Work on developing a partnership began in earnest under Labour with the trade unions fully involved in the process. Northumberland Labour Group we’re keen to add the project to its market town initiative programme and deliver from the then newly acquired Manor Walks, planning a long stay multi storey car park on the back of the 400 jobs that it would take to deliver a full and professional joint service to 650,000 people.
Since the May elections and a Tory led coalition using Bedlington Independents and Northumberland Lib Dems as dupes for power, the secret society has moved in. A report has been written to start the project, without any input from the service management, staff and trade unions in Northumberland and is not being shared with Councillors outside of the inner wheel.
The fear factor, bullying and in-house power plays by a small number of public sector 'fat cats' has now taken over with privatisation and outsourcing featuring well among the tales of woe being slowly uncovered.
The dark side of an administration characterised by bullying, dodgy deals and maladministration is not yet public knowledge but decisions taken in the last 7 months are mounting up following the ruination of Arch and the nationally recognised destruction of planning protection for towns and villages through the debacle of removing the local plan core strategy from inspection by Government will undoubtedly get out to a wider audience in the public interest.
On behalf of the Council taxpayers of Northumberland Labour council members demand openness and transparency on this and other matters and need to know what’s happening with the 400 jobs destined for Cramlington under Labour's plans for this much valued service
 
 
Virus-free. www.avg.com