TAXPAYERS should pay more to help boost Wearside’s fortunes, says a councillor.
Coun Denny Wilson, a member of Sunderland Council’s ruling cabinet, also questioned the authority’s pride in delivering the lowest council tax bills in the North East.
The Castle ward representative, responsible for the Safer City and culture brief, made the controversial remarks while giving evidence to a watchdog committee looking at how to improve Sunderland’s image.
“We say we’ve got the lowest council tax bills in the North East,” he said. “But it’s like saying ‘I’ve got the lowest petrol bill in the street – because I never go anywhere’.
“I could have the lowest electricity bill, but it’s not doing me any good if I’m sitting in the dark. We’ve got to have money if we want things to happen.”
Coun Wilson said council investment in the lights in Mowbray Park, and festive activities across the city centre had helped see Sunderland’s core shopping area enjoy record sales.
He again set out his stall to bring a ferry back to the Wear, which he said would benefit residents and help send pedestrian and visitor traffic through the quiet areas of the historic East End, and Sunniside quarter.
Coun Wilson also called on city councillors to be brave and have ambition for Wearside even in the face of cuts.
“We’re seeing £58million worth of cuts, but we’re not just standing still – we’re still spending more than £700million. We’re still out there making things happen.”
Coun Wilson said Sunderland was a city, but too often had a “town mentality.”
He also criticised debates at full council meetings and called for real issues to be discussed rather than “political point scoring.”
“You may have noticed, but we don’t get many members of the public turning up at council meetings because it’s point scoring, rather than debate about substantial issues that really matter to people.”
Coun Wilson was speaking at an environment and attractive city scrutiny committee meeting.
Other councillors were not convinced by his arguments.
Coun John Kelly, Washington North, said: “While I appreciate what the councillor is saying about council tax – the public want us to provide lots of things but without them picking the bill up – I don’t want to be the one trying to do that with some of the families who are hardest hit.”
Couns Graeme Miller and Phil Tye said the reason Sunderland’s council tax was kept so low, was down to the authority’s excellent officers’ hard work.
Committee members said there was a need to get private investment in for council projects rather than putting the burden on taxpayers, and called for companies which benefited from public sector investment to chip in.
Coun Kelly added: “At Christmas the shops had record sales, but we’re picking the bill up for them to have record sales.
“It was the same when we had the lights from Roker through to Seaburn. That was very successful, but the council picked the bill up – the businesses profited, but wouldn’t come in on the bill.”