NORTHUMBERLAND County Council borrowing is set to sky-rocket to almost £850million next year.

The authority's audit committee heard how nine ‘forward deals’ have been agreed to borrow £75million from other local authorities between December 2020 and February 2021 – when the money is expected to be required – which have a combined average interest rate of 0.66 per cent.

It is also estimated that another £40million will need to be borrowed before the end of the financial year in March 2021.

A report to last week's meeting explained: "Given the dramatic downturn in the economy, the accompanying fall in interest rates and the expectation of these rates remaining low for a prolonged period of time, a decision was taken early in the new financial year to shift the emphasis for meeting the year’s external borrowing requirement to shorter, rather than longer, term loan facilities."

Previously reported delays to a number of schemes in the capital spending programme plus the ‘significantly lower than budgeted’ interest rates should mean an interest bill for the year of £25.7million – £2.6million lower than forecast.

In terms of overall external investments, these reduced during the first six months of the financial year from £191.1million to £176.1million, and are set to drop to around £99.6million by March 31, 2021.

Concerns were raised by vice-chairman, Coun. Mark Swinburn, that almost a quarter of the investments recorded in the mid-year position – £41.3million – are with other local authorities, amid reports of authorities in financial difficulty.