Ex-councillors accused of 'financial vandalism'

PUBLISHED: 08:00 23 September 2019

Portishead Folk Hall. Picture: Google

Portishead Folk Hall. Picture: Google

Google

Councillors have slammed the 'financial vandalism' of their predecessors after 'shocking and shameful' decisions led to tens of thousands of pounds being lost.

Portishead Town Council revealed last week it expects to lose more than £50,000 over a two-year period as a result of a 'dangerously low' precept - the portion of council tax collected by the town council.

In January, the authority agreed to cut the precept to just £26 a year, almost £10 cheaper than it was a decade ago.

Councillors say Portishead is now paying the penalty.

The town council, which was almost entirely reshuffled after May's elections, made a loss of more than £13,000 in 2018/19, and by the end of the current financial year it expects to lose close to £40,000 more.

The 'extremely alarming' figures have left the town council below recommended levels of reserves.

Speaking at its September 11 meeting, Cllr Caritas Charles said he was 'sickened' by the revelations.

He added: "I am so angry at the financial vandalism of the last administration. It may be legal and above board, but it is the equivalent of somebody setting fire to their house just before they are evicted.

"It is shocking and shameful, and they should knock on the doors of Portishead and apologise for what they have done. It sickens me.

"The last administration spent more than it collected, that is a fact. For the past two years, that administration had been warned by auditors that it was dangerously low in the precept amount."

Bob Bull, the town council's staffing and finance committee chairman, said: "I am not going to oversee a council which spends more money than it's got coming in.

"People get really worked up about the precept, but you need to understand it's 1.5 per cent of your rates. Even if we doubled what you currently pay, it's the cost of a cup of coffee a month. It really isn't a lot of money, but it would put us back in a much better position."

Cllr Charles added: "This administration will sort this mess out, and in the years to come I will tell my daughter about the bad old days and how they're gone forever because this town took back control."

Lesley Cottrell, vice chairman of the town council when the budget was set, hit back at the criticisms and insisted the previous administration left enough money in reserves.

She told the Times: "I honestly believe that the previous Portishead Town Council always did its best to serve its residents even though it was frequently accused of hoarding rather than spending its money.

"All financial documents are reported each month to town council and are available to the public. At the meeting in January, no member of the public spoke against the budget for 2019/20 in public participation."

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