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Massive spending charges against town council proved to be totally untrue

Marlborough is a not high spending town council and is not guilty of persistent allegations that it is incompetent, reckless and even dishonest.

Its annual budget of £400,000, planned to stay in surplus, is among the lowest of market towns in Wiltshire, ended the last financial year £52,672 in the red compared with a loss of £125,555 a decade ago and other substantial losses until 2009.

And the council’s proposals to use low interest rate public loans to carry out further improvements to the town hall – aimed at raising its income level – is the same policy as that adopted by other town councils in the county.

“I think some members were quite shocked by the implied allegation that appeared to accuse this council of financial incompetence, reckless spending and even dishonesty at the annual meeting,” finance committee chairman and former mayor Councillor Andrew Ross (pictured) told last night’s town council meeting.

“Even more disturbing is that one of our councillors, Mrs Marian Hannaford-Dobson, is writing in the press challenging the financial governance of this council and raising concerns that really have little basis in fact.”

And he added that the council currently maintained reserves of £284,000.

Mr Ross was interrupted by Mrs Hannaford-Dobson, a Conservative member, who jumped up protesting that he was “being very rude and insulting” and repeatedly asking him to withdraw his remarks.

And her husband, Councillor Stewart Dobson, complained that councillors were not present to hear a lecture that made petty points and raised insulting issues but to hear details of a new and improved presentation of the council’s accounts.

“This (points scoring) is not the purpose of the item on the agenda,” he insisted.

But they were both slapped down by Councillor Edwina Fogg, the deputy mayor who was in the chair, and told to wait until question time to raise any matters they disagreed with.

And later in the meeting, Mrs Fogg said that the town’s precept for council tax payers was neutral last year and in the current year was below inflation.

“We are a high income generating council, attracting funds and donations of £250,000,” she declared, among them £75,000 for the town’s skate park, £50,000 to repair the steps and decorate the frontage of the town hall and £18,000 for disabled access to the Town Hall.

The row erupted following angry scenes at the council’s annual parish meeting earlier in the year when some members of the public challenged the council’s spending record and its proposals for further renovations to the town.

In the current issue of the Gazette & Herald, Mrs Hannaford-Dobson writes: “Marlborough town council is a high spending council with even larger plans to spend mega money later in the year.”

“Sadly councillors who dared to voice concerns over the £1.2 million projected spend and massive borrowing for the town that this expenditure would require, were swiftly removed from the committees.”

She complained that just a third of the councillors controlled the budget, and added: After all this is public money, yours and mine, and it is always easy to spend other people’s money.”

But those accounts were accepted by the 16-strong council and Mr Ross, a retired chartered accountant, has now produced easily understandable accounts.  They reveal that last year’s overspend was on buying the Stonebridge Meadow in partnership deal with ARK plus equipment for the Salisbury Road play park, reducing the council’s reserves by £52,000.

The town council’s current budget –- each individual committee is responsible for its own budgeted spending -- is to end the year with a surplus of £7,950, the improvements to the town hall, which generates an income of £25,400, to be carried out over several years.

“Clearly it can be seen that council spending is not being controlled by one third of the council as Mrs Hannaford-Dobson alleged in the Gazette and Herald this week,” insisted Mr Ross.

“Council spending decision are not made behind closed doors. There are no secret cabals. All spending is determined by 16 members with the public present.”

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