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Tuesday, 26 May 2015

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Scrap the county council, says MP

BRING back Tynedale Council! That was the message to the House of Commons this week from Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman.

With county council elections just three months away, the Tory MP has called for the unitary Northumberland County Council to be broken up, and for power to be handed back to a recreated district council.

But the proposal has been dismissed as “nuts” by county council leader Jeff Reid, who accused Mr Opperman of being totally out of touch with economic reality.

In his Commons address, Mr Opperman said the scrapping of the unitary authority imposed on Northumberland against the will of most of its residents would lead to the return of localism in its purest form.

He said: “We would get back Tynedale District Council, which is much missed.

“I assure the Minister that that would make him the most popular man in Hexham that there has ever been.

“Right now towns in West Northumberland like Hexham and Haydon Bridge are suffering serious neglect from the county council.

“Services have been cut and funding reduced in our area while more and more focus has been given to the south east of the county.

“The county council has given free parking to Blyth and is spending a whopping £20m on a new leisure facility for Ashington – all while we can’t even get the grass here.

“Our area is getting a really raw deal from County Hall. We can’t go on like this and one way or another, something is going to have to change.”

And while no changes are likely in the short term, the scrapping of the unitary county was not ruled out entirely by Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis in responding to Mr Opperman.

He said: "I do not doubt that I would make myself very popular if I were able to return Tynedale District Council to Hexham!”

The Coalition Government has shown little enthusiasm for the unitary councils brought in by the last Labour government.

Mr Opperman’s proposal brought a withering response from the leader of the county council, Coun. Jeff Reid, who heads the Lib Dem minority administration.

He said: “It’s just nuts – I don’t think Guy Opperman has the faintest idea of how local government operates.

“He wants to get rid of this council and bring back Tynedale, as if that would cure everything.

“He completely forgets that the potholes he spends so much time complaining about had nothing to do with Tynedale, and nor did the schools, social services or many other functions.

“Who would look after them in his brave old world?

“The world is a very different place from the one in which the unitary authority was created, and any council with fewer than 200,000 residents simply could not survive in the current financial climate.”

He pointed out that one of the reasons local government was in such dire straits was draconian measures introduced by Mr Opperman’s own government.

He added that in the past four years, the county had been required to make expenditure cuts of £117m – almost three times the total annual budgets of the seven constituent members of the unitary authority.

He said: “It’s complete rubbish to say the one area of the county is given preference over another;we are as even-handed as we possibly can be.”

He accused Mr Opperman of being a shameless self publicist.

He said: “I don’t think he knew where Hexham and Corbridge were until three years ago, and now he sets himself up as an expert.

“All the other MPs in Northumberland are in regular touch with me or the chief executive to try to sort out any problems together.

“All the time I have been leader, Mr Opperman has never once written to me, made an appointment to see me or made any contact at all. All Mr Opperman wants to do is to shout.”