Council’s £900m debts ‘the highest per head in England’

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SOUTH Tyneside Council has long-term liabilities of more than £900m, according to new figures from the Taxpayers’ Alliance.

Broken down, the statistics show that the authority’s legal debts or borrowing obligations per head of population in 2012/13 was £6,125 - the highest in England.

That compares with £3,129 in Sunderland; £4,447 in North Tyneside; £4,837 in Newcastle, and £5,534 in Gateshead.

The watchdog says that cash could be better spent on essential frontline services.

South Tyneside Council comes under particular attack for the £250,000 the Alliance says it has spent in connection with the ‘Mr Monkey’ blog case in the US courts.

That website first appeared in 2008, making malicious claims about certain political figures in the borough.

The council backed a bid to discover the identity of those behind the Mr Monkey blogs on behalf of four plaintiffs who came under attack – South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm, Coun Anne Walsh, the late councillor David Potts and council regeneration boss Rick O’Farrell. Mr Monkey has yet to be unmasked, some six years after the site first appeared.

Much of the borough’s long-term liabilities are related to the partially-funded Local Government Pension Scheme, but 40 per cent takes the form of long-term borrowing.

Total long-term liabilities for South Tyneside Council stand at £909m, according to the report, compared with Sunderland (£863m); North Tyneside (£902m); Gateshead (£1.1bn) and Newcastle (£1.3bn).

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “It is nothing short of immoral for councils to pile further debt on the next generation.

“Councils must look again at overgenerous pensions and wage a war on waste, or Britain’s debt burden may soon become too heavy to bear.”

A South Tyneside Council spokesman said: “The council’s long-term borrowing levels are managed in accordance with prudential rules and, through the setting of our medium term financial plan, we ensure that they are affordable and sustainable.

“Our current borrowing levels are not only helping to fund the regeneration of our town centres, riverside and seafront areas, but are also helping us to invest in the long-term future of the borough and our residents, with a focus on stimulating sustained economic growth and creating jobs.

“Over recent years, we have made substantial savings against a backdrop of unprecedented Government funding cuts.

“However the council’s priority is to continue to secure investment in the borough’s future for the benefit of local people and communities.

“The council’s liabilities also include liabilities relating to the Local Government pension scheme, which is a statutory scheme, the terms of which are set at a national level.”