NORTHUMBERLAND County Council does not believe it is in breach of regulations surrounding the publication of statutory notices in relevant local newspapers.

That was the message from the council’s Labour leader, Coun. Grant Davey, when he was challenged by leader of Northumberland Conservatives, Coun. Peter Jackson, over the removal of the legal notices from the Hexham Courant .

The pair locked horns on a debate over the council’s annual advertising spend at the final full council meeting before the election on Wednesday.

And sharp increases in spending to display pictures of Coun. Davey on the authority’s own fire engines and refuse vehicles were revealed.

In the last seven months, the council spent a total of £12,664 on advertising on its own vehicles alone.

During the same period, the council-controlled entities Active Northumberland and Arch spent £106,562 and £89,905 on advertising respectively.

In comparison, the total cost of the council’s advertising in newspapers was just short of £30,000.

“The council must be embarrassed by these figures,” said Coun. Jackson.

“Meanwhile, the council has withdrawn all public notices from the main local newspaper in the west of the county.

“This has meant that residents in that entire area have not been receiving essential information about a whole range of matters which affect their lives.

“When will the leader recognise that this action is both unfair and discriminatory, and will he undertake to reinstate the public notices to the Hexham Courant immediately?”

Coun. Davey said it was unfortunate some had sought to make a political issue out of the decision.

“The declining circulation of newspapers is no secret and the way people access their news and information is changing.

“We have to do everything we can to protect front-line service delivery and this decision is a pilot to explore whether there are more cost effective ways of getting this information to people.”

He added that, as part of the scheme, free copies of the Northumberland Gazette , which contains the public notices for the Tynedale area, were now being made available in the Queen’s Hall in Hexham, as well as council-run leisure centres in Hexham, Prudhoe and Ponteland.