Bid to keep cash from sale of council assets in South Tyneside wards rejected over equality concerns

A bid to redirect cash from the sale of council assets to communities has been rejected by South Tyneside councillors over fears “deprived areas could lose out”.

At a recent meeting of South Tyneside Council, the South Tyneside Alliance Group, which includes independents and the local authority’s sole Conservative, launched a motion.

This included proposals to “award 3% of the net sale receipt of an asset owned by South Tyneside Council to the ward in which the asset was sold, for community benefit”.

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Councillor Glenn Thompson, independent councillor and leader of the alliance group, said the approach could be processed through existing Community Area Forum (CAF) structures.

The meeting took place in South Shields Town Hall.

He added the proposed scheme would have exclusions, including asset sales under the right to buy scheme and asset sales with financial restrictions or legal or regulatory barriers in place.

Independent councillor Paul Brenen seconded the motion, adding the proposal would help tackle public perceptions of money from council asset sales “going into a central pot” and being “spent off-ward”.

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Cllr Brenen said: “Many of the borough’s assets have been sold off from caretakers’ houses on our schools, parks and cemeteries, to playing fields and parks and schools themselves.

“Whilst this motion does not condone these sales it addresses a little of the pain felt in each ward that has lost them or potentially might lose them in the future”.

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However the council’s Labour Group voted against the motion, which council chiefs argued would have a “detrimental effect” on council finances, as well as causing more deprived areas to “lose out” on funding.

Councillor Joanne Bell, cabinet member for governance, finance and corporate services, said the council had already increased money available to CAFs to spend locally and made a commitment that this would continue.

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Cllr Bell added that council assets “belong to the whole borough and not just the ward in which they’re situated”.

On the opposition motion, the cabinet member continued: “Our most deprived areas could lose out, as there are few, if no assets, in these areas to sell and they could lose out in the borough-wide schemes which would suffer because of this proposal.

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“The administration of such a proposal, although possible, is not without its problems”.

Independent councillor John Robertson, who later abstained from voting on the motion, said he agreed with the majority of Cllr Bell’s points.

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Cllr Robertson said: “If you look at the Jarrow CAF, you look at Fellgate and Hedworth, Primrose, Boldon and Bede.

“Some wards have got multi-million pound properties that might get sold for hundreds of thousands [of pounds], but others may never get a property to sell”.

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Cllr Glenn Thompson, opposition leader, said the council didn’t know where properties were going to be sold in future and that the proposals could benefit both affluent wards and wards in need.

Cllr Thompson added the proposals in the motion were working successfully in other councils and that the level of 3% had been built in to have a “minimal effect”.

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After being put to the vote at Thursday’s meeting (October 27), the motion failed to win support across the council chamber.

The final result included 11 votes in support and 35 against, with Green Party councillorSarah McKeown and independent John Robertson abstaining from the vote.