MANSFIELD District Council’s Independent Forum leader has hit back against fierce criticism of the authority’s spending methods and cost-cutting budget.
Barry Answer spoke out after Mansfield’s Labour MP Alan Meale revealed the authority had spent almost £1m in two years on hiring agency workers.
Mr Answer also defended the council budget, approved last month, which included no council tax rise but a heavy cut to funding for some community groups after cuts handed down from Westminster.
Mr Answer insisted the spending on outside staff, revealed following a Freedom of Information Act request by Mr Meale, was justified.
“We have to make sure our frontline services continue,” he said.
“Bringing staff in to cover for outside work is predominantly related to refuse collection services.
“If people are off sick we have to make sure replacement workers come in.”
Last week Mr Meale questioned the Council’s financial management over the spending at a time when the authority is under pressure to become more efficient.
Mr Answer also defended the budget approved on 26th January, which included several major efficiency savings and reduced car parking fees.
However, organisations including Mansfield Citizens’ Advice Bureau criticised a £50,000 cut in the budget which supports community groups.
The move is subject to a legal challenge from Forest Town man David Carman (59), who tackled a £12,500 debt with help from the CAB.
The organisation is among groups who receive grants from the threatened budget.
“We’ve tried to look after the people in the street and our employees,” added Mr Answer.
“We stand by the decisions we are making, although if something is not perfect, we will look at it.”
The authority has set £50,000 aside while it considers a response to the challenge, lodged through a Birmingham-based law firm Mr Carman hired with legal aid.
“We will wait and see what happens, but at the end of the day we are here for the public, not ourselves,” Mr Answer insisted.
“We’ve also not made any compulsory redundancies and the fact we’ve had to make some of the cuts is principally because of the cuts the Government have put on to us.”
The Sherwood ward representative also bemoaned the central funding cut of just over seven per cent handed to the council by the Government’s spending review.
“If you look at leafy Rushcliffe (in Nottingham) they only had a very small reduction and they don’t have all the difficulties we do.
“I don’t know where the Government have come up with their figures.”