HORSHAM District Council (HDC) has rejected claims made by the Daily Telegraph newspaper that taxpayers’ money amounting to almost £2,000 was squandered on llamas and fish.
In a report published on Saturday, the national newspaper claimed the local authority spent £1,150 on two llamas along with a flock of sheep to graze communal land.
It went on to declare a further £575 was spent on live fish for a ‘council pond’.
The alleged expenses were part of the newspaper’s investigation into councils across the UK who have spent tens of millions of pounds on taxpayer funded credit cards.
Councillor purchases of First class travel to foreign destinations and Gucci handbags are among some of the named expenses.
The accusations come at a tender time for Horsham residents, who are bracing for a number of service cuts by West Sussex County Council in a bid to save £79M over the next three years.
Towards the end of last year, the County Times revealed that HDC was facing a financial black hole of £1.6 million.
More than half the figure was attributed to a total projected overspend of £900,000 by HDC, the majority of which involved the Acorn Plus Recycling Scheme, while the council was also looking at a £700,000 shortfall in income.
But the authority was able to refute the newspaper’s accusations declaring that the llamas were paid for using Lottery Funding and not tax payers’ money.
Ray Dawe, newly elected Deputy Leader of HDC and Cabinet Member for Efficiency and Taxation, disputed the recent claims, saying that ‘the council provided an explanation to the Daily Telegraph journalist that did not appear in the article’.
He said: “The llamas were entirely funded by a Lottery grant to the High Weald project, so no taxpayer money was spent.
“Expenditure by Council purchasing card of £1,150 on 7 February 2011: this relates to the purchase of livestock - llamas - from a llama park (not, as the question we were asked says, for a llama park) for grazing a council-owned area of open land, which provides an informal amenity area for residents.
“The land is former farmland and the llamas, with a small flock of sheep, are a cost-efficient and eco-friendly way of maintaining the land, with the llamas eating vegetation and shrubs not suitable for the sheep.”
The councillor went on to explain how the purchasing of fish on March 29 2011 was to re-stock the fishing lake at a council owned country park.
“The council sells daily fishing licences and therefore receives income from the fishing lake.”
He added: “It is also important to bear in mind the reason local authorities use purchase credit cards.
“They are issued to a limited number of council officers who are authorised to buy goods and services for the Council.
“They simplify the ordering of low value goods and other items such as training courses which are often paid by card over the internet.
“The purpose is to reduce our transaction costs (paying lots of low value invoices is expensive) and the policy of using cards is part of our procurement strategy. The Council pays them off each month.
“Officers who hold cards keep a spreadsheet of all transactions on the card and submit it to the Council’s Finance Department each month where transactions are scrutinised.”
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