Town council under fire in cash row

CALLS are mounting for a fledgling council to disband after figures revealed it spends only 40% of its annual budget on providing services for the public who fund it.

CALLS are mounting for a fledgling council to disband after figures revealed it spends only 40% of its annual budget on providing services for the public who fund it.

The Bury St Edmunds Town Council, which came into existence in 2003, will spend £91,040 on staff costs and £30,340 on administration this year - leaving £78,750 for its duties including handing out grants and contributing to traffic calming schemes.

The news has angered taxpayers, who stump up an average of £13.95 annually for the body, with some describing the authority as "the biggest waste of money that ever set foot on the face of this earth".

But officials from Suffolk's newest council say it provides the Bury community with a mouthpiece, and will gain more credibility as its share of services grows.

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"I opposed the town council from when it was first talked about, realising all it was going to be was a licence to print money and spend it," said Mike Brundle, former leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council.

"The town council is totally unnecessary to Bury and that is pretty obvious to anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence. If councillors sitting on the body want to be of any service to the town, they should wind themselves up.

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"It is an absolute total waste of money, and I really resent the proportion of my rates I have to pay towards it. It does not do anything and nobody will miss it if it winds up.

"I think it is the biggest waste of money that ever set foot on the face of this earth."

The body's annual budget stands at £188,130, with taxpayers stumping up all but £10,000 of that total.

Of that cash, £79,040 is allocated each year for staff costs, but the council has dipped into its savings to add £12,000 to that total this year after employing a fourth full-time member of staff.

Of these, the highest earner is town clerk Linda Sherer, whose salary comes within the £40,935 to £46,311 bracket.

The council also hires a part-time town keeper, to pinpoint areas which need improvement, and runs up administration costs of £30,340.

"I would not have thought this was value for money," said Derek Redhead, who serves on the borough council. "I was council leader when the application for a town council was made, and thought it was ridiculous.

"It does cost a lot of money, but people had a right to one if that is what they wanted, and the public voted for it."

However Mike Ames, town mayor, said staff wages were based on a nationally recognised scale, adding the council charged one of the lowest precepts in the county - a levy which has not risen since it came into existence.

"If you go down or up the road, you will find they have smaller populations and more administration," he said. "And if we are going to get people with the right qualifications, we have to pay them the going rate.

"We are a young town council and we are growing. As we take on more responsibilities and more powers are devolved to us, there will be a higher precept. We are very, very conscious of how and what we spend our money on.

"Town councils are the bedrock of democracy, and give the people a voice - the same as in every other town and parish in the area and in Suffolk."

David Nettleton, the town council's internal auditor, said the cost to taxpayers of the body was less in Bury than the average parish charge of £23.

"It is actually cheaper to live in Bury than anywhere else," he said. "People can make their own judgements on whether this is good value for money for the services they get.

"If you do not have administration, you cannot spend on services. The administrative costs are fixed and we cannot do anything about them.

"I did not support the idea of a town council in the first instance. I said it would cost too much in administration and there were cheaper, and better, ways of doing things.

"Nobody has yet found a way of using the town council for the benefit of Bury and we have not really established an identity as a body - until we do that, people will be asking why we are in existence."

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