£220 million council reserves

We requested a review of Durham County Council reserves and at least £64.481m cash has been found not allocated to anything according to next weeks Cabinet papers. We believe it is even more.

I had asked for the review after reserves at the North East’s largest authority rocketed above £200m. The latest cabinet report for next week’s meeting shows an expected increase in reserves to £220m – an increase predicted by Liberal Democrat councillors back in March of this year.

The Authority’s Cabinet will approve transferring the surplus money into a £30m delivery reserve to help combat government cuts. A further £34m will go towards plans to build a new County Hall.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood said of this “We have consistently said the Council had more money available than it admitted. We have been proven right. The council now have £220m reserves and have had to admit that  tens of millions were available all along.”

I believe that millions of pounds more could be made available if the Council got its priorities right.

The council has still not made many of the sensible savings we have suggested. It still has six communications departments. It still spends a fortune on County News – its publicity magazine. It still has more directors than it needs.

I believes that Durham’s unitary authority is its own worst enemy. By failing to make these sensible savings, and holding huge amounts in reserve, they are giving ammunition to the Tory cuts.

The government is going to turn around and say the public sector still has piles of money. Look at Durham they can afford to build a new Council Palace and have piles of cash.

On the ground of course, local residents know that so much more could be done to improve County Durham. They also know that Labour politicians are ignoring their views. Poor quality roads and footpaths, leaking schools and the closing of the DLI museum without any consultation are prime examples.”

We believe that in addition to the reserves hike the council has further over estimated various elements of its budget including inflation (over 10 times the national rate), debt costs (no increase so far this year) and energy inflation (falling not rising). All this suggests reserves could hit a quarter of billion pounds by the end of the year.



I submitted a call-in request today to the Council signed by members of all three main opposition groups at County Hall.

The Council plans to close the museum in April, but is doing so without in our view properly consulting with councillors, and without any public consultation. In addition it is felt that all possible alternatives have not been explored.


A petition has nearly 6000 names at the moment and can be found here:


Our call-in has been reported in the Northern Echo this evening, reprinted below:

OPPOSITION councillors are challenging the process by which a council decided to close a military museum.

Six Liberal Democrat, Conservative and independent members of Durham County Council have backed an attempt to have the closure of the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Museum, in Aykley Heads, Durham City, “called in” for further scrutiny.

Lib Dem Mark Wilkes, who has led the effort, said there had been a complete lack of proper consultation with the public and opposition councillors and Labour members knew of the closure plan long before local members, who were only informed once there was no chance of any changes being made.

He also said there were concerns not all the possible alternatives to closure, such as asking volunteers to run the facility, had been considered.

“Whilst there may be elements of the proposals which are positive, it is felt that cabinet should consider our concerns and carry out a meaningful consultation with the general public,” he said.

“The way in which the council has gone about this process has left many people deeply upset and in some cases very angry. By not asking public views it has brought into question the democratic process. The council can address some of this by taking a step back and listening.”

Cllr Joe Armstrong, chair of the council’s overview and scrutiny wing, will consider the call in request with officers tomorrow (Friday, October 30).

He said: “We have an open mind about it. The request is about procedure so I’ll be looking at the procedure to ensure we’re right within our constitution. If we’re not, we’ll have to get it put right.”

The scrutiny committee could ask the cabinet to look again at the decision.

The council decided to close the 50-year-old museum and move the collection to the Spennymoor Sevenhills building, which has secure, environmentally-controlled facilities. Temporary loans and exhibitions are planned and talks have begun with Durham University over a display at Palace Green Library.

Conservative energy policy a disaster

In just one week, over 1000 jobs have been lost in the solar energy industry. This is entirely the fault of the Conservative government. They are cutting the tariffs for solar energy by nearly 90%.

When the Lib Dems were in government we helped to massively boost renewable energy across the UK, helping both the environment and our energy security. The Tories are now putting our energy security at risk. a further 1000 jobs across the North East are in danger of being lost and the figures could be even worse.

If the Conservatives suddenly announced they were scrapping subsidies for North Sea oil firms (which get billions), I am sure that their industry with all the power it has would be knocking on the government door with sledgehammers. Sadly solar and renewable energy firms do not have as much money or influence as the big oil companies.

The last government was the greenest ever because of the Lib Dems. This government is destroying all the good work which was started leaving us to continue to rely on unsafe, environmentally polluting foreign fuel supplies from unstable parts of the world.

Incredible difference to path after work

A long time ago I asked the council to sort out a path on Newton Drive in Framwellgate Moor. It didn’t get done. This week I sent a photo pointing out it really needed some work doing.

The response was that it was not unsafe and work would’t be done but perhaps would be next year. I didn’t think that was the right answer and so questioned it again by email and then had a conversation with a head of service to double check. I got the same response.

At this point I thought I better run it past the Director of Neighbourhood Services, where common sense prevailed.  I wasn’t going to post this but they have done such a good job it deserves comment. As you can see, although there are a few repairs to do now, it is looking a bit better – and honestly this is the same path. Job well done by council workers today. And thank you to the Director too.

Before and after

Before path After path


You may have read my post last week about our Labour-run council’s plan to cut school transport provision:


At Children’s Scrutiny today I challenged this. Pointing out:

– the same department seeking to make the cuts has just announced it has saved 10 times as much so far this year as the cuts required to school transport – £7.6m

– the same department has £9.4m in a cash limit reserve allocated to nothing.

– the council has over estimated inflation this year as 15 times its current rate.

– the council has over estimated the cost of its debt to the tune of millions of pounds.

– the council has placed £20m in a planned delivery reserve to stop cuts such as this.

– the council has £6m more in its insurance reserve than it needs

– the council has six communications departments. If they were merged it would save upto £1.5m a year

– the council has more directors than it needs and could save hundreds of thousands of pounds by just reducing by one.

– the council said it would cut mileage allowances for staff and councillros by 3p from 48p a mile to 45p a mile which would have saved £240,000 it has now stopped this.

In total the council has £80m to play with and loads of ways to find the money it needs so that it does not need to make this harsh cut.

The response from one Labour councillor was that if anyone had sensible ideas they would be listened to but when i sugested the committee could recommend any of these things, I was simply told it was a consultation and my views would be passed across. Some scrutiny that is. The committee could have collectively opposed this madness.

And one Labour county councillor actually said that we should manage these things better to make sure there wasn’t as much bad publicity. The only people creating bad publicity are the Labour-run Cabinet on Durham County Council for acting like a bunch of far-right, slash and burn Tories.

Abbey Leisure Centre price hikes thwarted and treadmills replaced

Attempts by the Council to hike some prices at Abbey Leisure Centre have been thwarted by your Lib Dem councillors.

After finding out that Table Tennis prices would rocket by almost 100%, we have secured an over 60’s concession to keep the price down.

A plan to hike soft play for infants by 66% have been scrapped completely after we challenged this with the Head of Service and Director.

And the two broken treadmills, one out of action for several months have been replaced/repaired after our intervention. Hopefully we will not see any more daft decisions on pricing or delays in repairs but please let us know if you do spot problems.

On a brighter note there is now a new tariff which also allows you to go swimming at Freeman’s Quay for just a pound a session if you sign up at Abbey!

Cleaning up in Framwellgate Moor

We have had three walkabouts on Framwellgate Moor Front St in the last week or so. Today I was out very early to discuss cleaning up the front street and terraced areas with one of our council officers.

The area is covered in weeds and I believe the council contractor has not been doing the job it should with weedkilling. The area is now being resprayed.

Next week the small cleaning machines should be out to clear up all the cig butts and other bits from the parking bays and pavements and in the coming weeks the side streets will be tackled too.

I have also asked that we look at replacing those bins without Cigarette ashtrays on the top of them or retrofitting. When new bigger bins were installed a year or so ago, they didn’t include ashtrays and now we have a horrendous problem with cig butts.

We have also reported various items of flytipping and rubbish and it has either already been cleaned up or shop owners have been asked to tidy up. Some of the takeaways really do need some harsh words!

A number of properties are also in an unacceptable state and we have notified various council departments about different issues of empty properties, burnt rubbish in gardens, flytipping and general untidiness.

We have asked that in some areas, the large number of bins are replaced with larger bins. I noticed on Victoria court that we have about 12 recycling bins which looks ridiculous, whereas there are four very large general waste bins which keep things far more tidy. There are similar issues on Tindale Avenue, and on South Terrace where we have partially addressed the problem.

More is planned… watch this space, but if in a few weeks time and going forward there is any flytipping, rubbish or other problems in this area please let us know. Only by us all being proactive can we clean up there area. Many residents don’t report things and the Council isn’t as proactive as we would like it to be. So if there is still rubbish around in a few weeks take a photo of any problems and email them to us.