Public will need convincing about need for new council HQ

Local authorities have undoubtedly taken a real battering over the past few years.

As the recession bit, the Government slashed council funding to try to reduce the massive national budget deficit.

That move has hit organisations such as Cumbria County Council hard and recent years have seen a succession of cuts and savings having to be made.

This year unpopular decisions have included plans to introduce on-street parking charges and reduce transport help for young people.

And the strong likelihood is next year the cuts will be even deeper and more painful.

Against this difficult financial background many people will be surprised Cumbria County Council is planning to spend £10.5million on a new headquarters in central Carlisle.

The council says its current buildings - a ‘patchwork’ of 20 sites across the city - are crumbling and would cost more than £9million to put right.

In the long term, it says, it makes financial sense to build a new HQ.

The council also argues funds for the proposed building would come out of its capital budget, rather than the revenue budget used to fund services to the public.

However, the timing of this proposal could hardly be much worse and is bound to lead to criticism.

Many people are unlikely to be too interested in the difference between capital and revenue budgets - they will simply see the county council planning to spend £10m on new offices.

When the council consults about next year’s budget this summer it needs to come up with some clear proposals early on, with various options on the table, and then allow people to provide informed feedback.

It will also need to ensure everyone in Cumbria is given a similarly clear explanation - perhaps through a leaflet distributed to every home - as to why a new headquarters is required at this time and exactly how it will be funded, if it is not going to face a potential public backlash.

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