Friday, December 22, 2006

8m. Windfall for South Tyneside.

What would a responsible council do with it?

South Tyneside District Council are the recipients of an 8m. pound windfall from it's investment in Newcastle International Airport. The airport, since 2001, has been jointly owned in a public/private partnership by seven local authorities and Copenhagen Airports; the local authorities own 51% of the shares and Copenhagen Airports the remaining 49%. The success of the venture has resulted in a profits share out worth 80m. pounds to the local authorities, and South Tyneside Council is likely to add it's 8m. share to it's reserves and contingencies fund which was plundered last year to plug a huge hole in the borough's finances.

Council officers are on course to produce savings of almost 5m. pounds in the current financial year, after announcing savings of 2.5m. pounds last month, so the borough's finances are starting to take on a more healthier complexion with today's news. As we are now aware, big savings can be made without detriment to the Council's services (their words, not mine), but before we can make sweeping judgments about the likely level of Council taxes next year, we will have to wait and see how much grant support the Chancellor will make available for South Tyneside Council.

Commenting on the dividends from the airport venture, Deputy Council Leader Iain Malcolm said today:

"It (the money) would not be burning a hole in our pockets" and "What I can pledge is that the money won't be used to keep the Council Tax artificially low."

We must agree, however, that it is wise and prudent to replace the monies taken from the reserves, but must caution against further increases in expenditure, other than what is forced upon us to administer legislation passed by Tony's Blair's dying government. Money clearly can be saved by our council without causing any great pain, officers are acting with great responsibility and diligence to return the council's finances to a state of balance and it would harm the new found credence of the Labour Party by stretching the resources of council tax payers to fund extended services next year.

A responsible council might like to aim for year of consolidation, prudently looking after both existing services whilst maintaining a strict control over spending and borrowing. A target of a zero rise in Council Taxes is attainable without being artificial, and with the Labour Party's fortunes plummeting nationally as the government runs out of steam, a zero tax rise might just manage to save a few Labour seats at the next local government election (start thinking about Fellgate)!

I had some rather odd thoughts when reading the news in tonight's evening paper;

  • Cllr. Iain Malcolm's profile is rising rapidly, local hacks seem to approach him first for comments on the major issues, where is the Council Leader, is he indisposed?
  • Opposition councillors are often reported for the high profile issues e.g. traffic calming protests, school bullying matters, petitions about fences etc. Do they have anything at all to say about the more mundane issues such as the level of council tax, next years budget, or the local development framework? Or do the press johnnies fail to ask them for comments?
  • It might just be me, but sometimes our local news looks just a little bit one sided these days.

A Gazette reporter writes:

For a lot of issues reporters are asked to go through the council's press office for a comment on a particular issue.

They decided who to approach, and the quote has to be signed off by a number of different departments before it can be used.

Perhaps the press officers have decided they'd like to make Coun Malcolm's star shine more brightly, because it isn't up to us hacks.
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