Budget battle is on the horizon

ALTERNATIVE BUDGET ... Coun George Elsom has been taking on board ideas from the public.

ALTERNATIVE BUDGET ... Coun George Elsom has been taking on board ideas from the public.

AN ‘alternative budget’ being prepared by the opposition on South Tyneside Council fails to address the need to make £22m of savings over the next year, the authority’s Labour leader has claimed.

Coun George Elsom, the council’s leader of the opposition, is to present a series of suggestions for across-the-board savings next month.

They include:

* Reducing the number of councillors for each ward from three to two;

* Limiting the use of corporate credit cards;

* Cutting conference costs and the number of council committees;

* Asking senior council officers to take a 10 per cent pay cut.

Statistics reveal that the 54 councillors in South Tyneside’s 18 electoral wards each represent an average of 2,748 residents – that compares with a figure of 3,671 in neighbouring Sunderland.

Coun Elsom, who represents Cleadon Park as an Independent, said: “We have been consulting the general public, and many of the ideas have come from them.

“Why do we actually need three councillors for every ward? The number of committees have expanded, creating more chairmen and vice- chairmen at extra cost.

“We have a number of officers earning more than £100,000. They can afford a 10 per cent cut when some ordinary workers are earning less than the living wage.”

It is hoped that plans would realise in the region of £1m – money which the opposition want to be re-invested into services.

Coun Iain Malcolm said he looked forward to the alternative budget being put forward at a meeting of the full council next month.

But he dismissed many of the suggestions, saying the authority had legal obligations in terms of the number of councillors and committees and that credit card spending was “very minimal”.

Coun Malcolm said: “I look forward to the opposition presenting its alternative budget, and thank them for giving me advance notice of it.

“Our committees were restructured three years ago and a lot of them, such as licensing and planning, are a legal requirement. We can’t not have them.

“It’s not as if a committee is put together so members can get together for a chat, and we’ve actually reduced the number of scrutiny committees.

“Credit card expenditure is very minimal, and it is all audited and accounted for.

“As for conferences, under this administration the cost of conferences is now less than £10,000 a year and there is a conference budget for officers that require training as part of their work.”

Coun Malcolm said none of the opposition’s suggestions “seriously address” the need to make £22m of savings in the next financial year.

The full details of the ‘alternative budget’ are to be presented to a meeting of the full council in South Shields Town Hall from 6pm on Thursday, February 27.

Twitter: @shieldsgazpaul




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