Mayor set to oversee rival budget after her own plans are rejected

NORTH Tyneside mayor Linda Arkley faces having to oversee a budget put together by opposition councillors after failing to secure enough support for her own proposals.

For only the second time in North Tyneside Council’s history, its ruling group, currently the Conservatives, will have to manage a budget put forward by other parties.

The Tories’ budget was rejected after Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors joined forces to put forward an alternative package of proposals and saw it approved by a margin of just one vote.

Mrs Arkley, pictured, and her cabinet will now have to put those proposals, including a council tax freeze, into practice or risk being held to account by Labour councillors.

The alternative budget – submitted after Mrs Arkley and her cabinet rejected both Labour and Lib Dem’s budget proposals last week – aims to ease the financial problems the council faces by reducing its rocketing debts and scrapping projects not already subject to contract.

Labour group leader Jim Allan told last Thursday’s budget meeting that plans to spend £1m for the regeneration of Cullercoats and Whitley Bay, £3.1m on a new joint service centre in North Shields and £1m on youth facilities would be put on hold to save money.

“We need to deal with the tough economic situation we are in,” he said.

“We’ve introduced innovative proposals to bring new income into the borough to protect our services within the council.

“In the last three years, our debt has grown from £300m to £512m.

“We need to live within our means, to take a considered position and to evaluate these schemes before we consider borrowing any money.

“We prefer to find innovative schemes that would actually save our need to borrow capital money.

“The way we are at the moment, we are borrowing and selling assets, and it’s not the right way to do business.”

Among the proposals agreed was to scrap proposed above-inflation increases in fees for allotments, sports facilities and bowling greens, as well as freezing the price of school dinners and meals on wheels and creating an adult social care repair fund.

It was also agreed that the job of chief executive, currently held on a temporary basis by Graham Haywood, be axed and that more support be given to long-standing plans to create a so-called multiversity training and learning complex at the old Swan Hunter shipyard site in Wallsend.

Other cost-cutting measures proposed include reducing the working week for council staff to 36 hours and asking those earning more than £50,000 a year to agree to a voluntary ten per cent pay cut.

It is estimated that those two moves would save the council £730,000 a year.

Conservative proposals for handing over some services to an outside trust and helping ex-armed forces personnel find work looks set to be abandoned.

The council is set to splash the cash on a new home for Wallsend Boys’ Club, however, with any proceeds from the sale of its current base in Station Road to be ring-fenced for spending on a proposed replacement in Rheydt Avenue.

Mrs Arkley and Conservative councillors have hit out at the spending plans they now face having to oversee, claiming the sums involved don’t add up.

Group leader Michael McIntyre said the trade unions had already indicated they would not alter their members’ terms and conditions to reduce their working week by an hour.

He added: “The Lab-Lib pact moves a number of savings that are not achievable and will plunge the council’s finances into crisis.

“There is only one way to save the money required to balance the budget proposed and that’s to make 600 staff redundant or close one third of the leisure services.

“If we don’t make these savings, they will have to be made twice over next year or council tax will have to rise by 13 per cent.”

Mrs Arkley added: “Our proposals protect and enhance services while creating opportunities for our residents and all our staff.

“I am disappointed that members are rejecting the interest from our community and business leaders in playing a part in our services to help make them even stronger.

“I fear this tells the people outside of the council that this council is not willing to engage and listen.

“This proposal will not only impact on families in the borough but our economy too.”

After the budget was approved, former mayor John Harrison asked: “Will the mayor and her cabinet ensure they deliver the alternative budget?

“If not, will she consider resigning and allowing us to elect a mayor to deliver the alternative budget?”

Mrs Arkley refused to stand down, though, saying: “I always consider everything, unlike some. And resign? Absolutely not.”

Afterwards, a council spokesperson said: “The alternative budget proposals agreed relate to £1.8m in a £170m overall council plan and budget package.

“Although together these proposals represent only one per cent of the revenue budget, they do include proposals that will require careful consideration.

“Some of the proposed changes relate to the capital plan, totalling £5.7m.

“The mayor and cabinet retain responsibility for implementation of a council plan and budget.

“They will now need to consider each of the items that make up the alternative proposals.

“These deliberations will need to reach a judgement on the future delivery options, taking into consideration constitutional, legal and policy issues.”

The budget will now go to a future meeting for Mrs Arkley and cabinet members to assess how they will implement the amendments to the budget.