Stalemate on Northumberland budget plans
Political leaders in Northumberland were ordered back to the drawing board last night after their budget plans for 2010/11 were rejected by an alliance of opposition councillors.
The minority Liberal Democrat administration at County Hall will now have to come up with a revised package of proposals after its plans to make ÃÂ£21.5m in savings to balance the books failed to win the support of Conservative and Labour opponents.
Opposition councillors were accused of "political grandstanding" at a meeting of the full council in Morpeth, which had been called to approve this year's budget following months of detailed consultations.
Last night's failure to reach an agreement means Lib Dem leaders have 18 days to come up with a budget to win the backing of a majority of the 67-strong council.
The unitary authority has a legal duty to set a budget by the end of February - or run the risk of Government commissioners being sent in to carry out the task.
Last night a last-minute package of concessions on a number of proposed cuts and savings failed to do enough to persuade Tory and Labour councillors to vote in favour of the leadership's budget.
These included a scaling-down of plans to axe a cut-price taxi travel scheme for elderly people who can't use buses, dropping a proposal to save ÃÂ£170,000 by axing community wardens, a reduced cut in spending on flower beds and halving a proposed ÃÂ£120,000 saving on subsidies for public transport.
They followed recent U-turns on closing Ashington leisure centre, six branch libraries and a several tourist information centres, and the abandonment of plans to impose a pay freeze on 1,600 council staff.
But last night the council's Conservative and Independent group leader, Peter Jackson, pictured left, said they still had major concerns about plans to cut capital spending on roads and pavements by ÃÂ£3m.
In addition, a proposed ÃÂ£2m cut in the commissioning budget for care of the elderly was described as "reckless in the extreme".
Coun Jackson said: "We are simply not satisfied with what is being put in front of us. We are making plans to sit down with the administration and have some serious talks, to see if we can get a budget without these harmful suggestions in it."
Labour leader Grant Davey said his group's budget supported the local economy, while the leadership's would plunge the county into further recession.
He told them: "You need to think again before the end of the month about using some of the ideas from the other parties to set a better budget."
Coun Andrew Tebbutt, pictured right, executive member for corporate resources, said analysis of the opposition groups' alternative budgets had concluded they would put the authority at "serious and unacceptable risk" if implemented. He said the Tory proposals would result in another 100 people being made redundant.
He added: "We have a legal obligation to set a budget by the end of February, otherwise we will find ourselves in the hands of commissioners."
Lib Dem councillor Dougie Watkin said opposition members should "stop political grandstanding" and support the budget. Another meeting of the council will be held on February 24 in a bid to reach agreement.
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