Thursday, June 21, 2012

ITEM CARRIED BY NEWS POST LEADER

Published on Thursday 21 June 2012 10:43

THE county council has denied claims that £1m has been set aside to pay for consultants and advice on privatising services.

The local authority is currently investigating ways of making savings of £74m over the next three years.
Included is the possible privatisation of some council services.
A Cramlington town councillor, speaking from the public gallery at a meeting of the county’s south east area committee in Ashington Leisure Centre, claimed £1m had been identified to pay for consultants.
But officers and members at the meeting denied any knowledge of the deal.
Democratic services manager Paddy Gascoigne said he did not recognise the figure of £1m.
Liberal Democrat executive member Coun Tom Brechany said: “The reason we are looking at the idea of private provision is we have got to save £74m over the next three years and we are looking at everything.
“I have never heard of this £1m being spent on consultants – there was no mention of that whatsoever.”
Labour leader Coun Grant Davey said it was disconcerting if the council was not looking at options other than wholesale privatisation.
“If a company can produce profits for its shareholders out of any contract, we should be able to produce services and savings on those services because we don’t need to produce profits,” he said.
“It’s a major problem for people. It threatens their jobs, it threatens their families and it threatens local businesses.
“We should have a full and proper public debate to see whether the people in south east Northumberland wish to have a privatised council or whether they are happy to have a council which may have to reduce some services but will still be able to produce services.”
Coun Brechany assured him the decisions would not be rushed through.
He said a report would go to the executive in late July and the final decision would be taken by the full council, not by the executive.
As revealed by the News Post Leader in mid-April, executive member for corporate resources Coun Andrew Tebbutt argued that the county faces a “perfect storm” of government pressures to cut spending next year, coupled with growing demand for care of elderly people.
Though it had already cut £100m, it needed to save another £74m over three or four years – the equivalent of 1,000 jobs on top of those 1,300 which have already gone.
It wanted to save jobs by forming a Public Private Partnership (PPP).
Council leader Coun Jeff Reid later denied £1m had been set aside for consultants and said the cost of the various fees involved was not yet known.
“When you haven’t got expertise to hand sometimes you’ve got to buy it in.
“But we are not anywhere near the point where any money has been allocated for anything.
“What you have got to remember is the council is a half-billion-pound organisation, so when you want to do things it’s going to cost money.
“I have no idea what the figure will be.
“Until we have identified a strategic partner and started down the path of discussing what we might do together, then really there isn’t very much to talk about.”

LETTER TO PRESS FROM GRANT DAVEY

Dear Editor

I find it hard to understand why the Liberal Democrat Leader of Council, Jeff Reid and his colleague, Andrew Tebbutt wish to privatise Northumberland County Council services.

Almost 40,000 people in Northumberland work in the retained public sector. 38% of families rely on their income from the public sector. In South East Northumberland you have some of the poorest wards nationally with a huge increase in poverty levels between 2009 -2011 recently reported to Parliament. 

I can understand why Andrew Tebbut can be persuaded towards privatisation, living as he does in one of Britains least deprived wards of Kirkhill, Morpeth.  Jeff Reid is a native of Blyth and only has to have opened his eyes a couple of times in the last 3 decades to see the impact privatisation of mainstay industries such as mining, British gas, electricity generation, shipbuilding, bus deregulation, BT etc has brought on our local economy and how under his supervision, Northumberland has moved from a four star council to one that has to get rid of its services in only four years.

Since 2008 your administration has almost cut off the public, people cannot contact your staff to discuss their problems and your premium rate telephone line frightens off the elderly and those in need. The public need to have full input into your current plans and a referendum should be arranged to see how Northumbrians feel about this proposed sell off.

I urge you Jeff to think again and keep public services democratically accountable to the public not a profit making scheme for those who can afford to buy shares in our County.


Yours Faithfully