DCSIMG

‘We won’t sell family silver’ pledges council chief

FOR SALE ... South Shields Central Library, above. Insets, top, Commercial House in South Shields and below, St Andrews Church, Hebburn.

FOR SALE ... South Shields Central Library, above. Insets, top, Commercial House in South Shields and below, St Andrews Church, Hebburn.

COUNCIL bosses in South Tyneside say they will not “sell off the family silver” as they make a further £18m of savings over the next 12 months.

The council will soon be setting its budget, and another year of efficiency savings lie ahead.

After £90m of savings in the past three financial years, and more than 1,000 staff posts shed, the scope for further cuts grows ever-more limited.

Central to the policy over the next year will be integrating services and selling off buildings that are regarded as “surplus to requirements”, including South Shields Central Library in Prince George Square, and the former youth offending service headquarters at Commercial House in Commercial Road, South Shields.

A number of council buildings have already been sold off to add cash to the coffers, among them the former St Andrew’s Church in Ellison Street, Hebburn.

In another bid to save cash, the authority will not be renewing leases on some of the buildings it rents, including the office complex in Charlotte’s Terrace, opposite South Shields Town Hall.

All the changes will enable centralisation of council staff at South Shields Town Hall, which is undergoing a major revamp.

More than 1,000 workers will eventually be based there.

But at a budget presentation to the council’s people select committee, Coun Ed Malcolm, lead member for innovation and resources, defended the authority’s approach and again pledged to protect services and the most vulnerable residents in the borough.

He said: “Our required savings target for 2014/15 is £18m. The budget has been very challenging and we have to look at how we interact with other services, whether it is public, voluntary or private.

“We are looking at realising our assets, and I’ve got to stress that this is not selling the family silver.

“We are reducing the number of buildings that we have. Some are past their sell-by-date, and we plan to make better use of the buildings that we have.

“There’s a lot of work going on at the town hall to ensure that the majority of workers come back there.

“We will not shirk from the challenges ahead, and will protect services and ensure that those in need will be protected.” Stuart Reed, the council’s director of finance, indicated that raising funds from council tax was becoming “more restrictive”.

He said: “The government require a referendum to be held if the proposal is to increase council tax by more than two per cent.

“It is likely these rules are to change in the next month or so.

“It’s likely that percentage will come down further, placing further restrictions on the authority to raise funds.”

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul

 

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