THE leader of Northumberland County Council has insisted he is “very proud” of the council’s upcoming budget and stated it will fund both frontline services and “ambitious” investment in the county.

The local authority published its formal budget on Tuesday (February 6) after months of consultation with councillors of all parties as well as the county’s residents. It is set to be considered by the council’s ruling cabinet next Tuesday, before it goes to full council on February 21.

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Cllr Sanderson acknowledged that the council had to act “responsibly” in the face of a difficult economic situation worldwide. However, he believed that the services most important to Northumberland’s residents were protected.

Cllr Sanderson said: “I’m very proud of what we’ve put forward in what remains a period of financial uncertainty on a global scale. We’ve protected the services and issues that people tell us matter the most – from free car parking in our towns, more money into road repairs, climate change and our environment, and continued investment in public toilets and leisure centres – at a time when other local authorities are cutting back or closing facilities.

“We’re attracting more Government funding than ever before which is being invested in town centre regeneration across the county, new schools and hugely important schemes such as the Northumberland Line, which will open later this year. 

“Of course we must act responsibly so that we can invest in the county’s future, and that’s exactly what we’re doing. At the same time we are not touching our general reserves and have no intention of doing so.”

Northumberland opened a new, multi-million-pound leisure centre at Morpeth last year, following on from new centres in Berwick and Ponteland. Meanwhile neighbouring Gateshead Council have controversially closed Gateshead Leisure Centre and Birtley Swimming Centre due to “rapidly rising running costs and substantial cuts to the council budget”.

Elsewhere, two of Northumberland’s most deprived towns – Blyth and Ashington – have both been awarded cash from the levelling up fund for regeneration projects. Three of the six stations on the Northumberland Line are due to open this summer, with the remaining three set to open in 2025 following engineering delays.

Budget documents suggest the £50.96m currently held in the general reserve will not be touched by the end of the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) in 2028. However, during that period of time, the council’s total reserves and provisions is estimated to fall from £298.32m to £197.32m.

Cllr Sanderson continued: “Wherever possible we’ll be looking to work more efficiently and using technology where needed to do things the best way we can.  

“Our three key priorities remain – to give value for money to our residents, to drive investment and jobs, and to tackle inequalities. These will continue to be set in stone going forward. 

“Of course, all this wouldn’t be possible without our staff who work every day to provide first-class services and ensure Northumberland remains a land of great opportunities.”

The council’s ongoing BEST programme is looking to make services more modern and efficient in order to save money, with £12.4m worth of savings identified by the end of the MTFP.

A total of £10.9m in efficiencies are proposed as part of this year’s budget, while residents can expect their council tax to rise by 2.99 per cent. The adult social care precept will also increase by 2 per cent.