Labour run council accused of ‘mishandling’ road funds as it loses track of £1.4m

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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The Labour group in charge of North Ayrshire Council [NAC] has been slammed after it emerged the local authority had lost track of £1.4 million.
 
The council received £1.8m from the Scottish Government in 2003 and to 2004, for work on the A737 at The Den and to improve access to the Ardeer site at Stevenston, but only a quarter of that was spent on the roads.

Last Monday, April 2nd, the SNP’s Kenny Gibson emailed the council’s Chief Executive Elma Murray to ask why the work had not been carried out and to find out what had happened to the cash.

Ms Murray, who took up her role in April 2009, claimed to having been unaware of the situation “until recently” and said she was now “looking into it”.

Two days later came confirmation that in the nine years since the money was awarded the local authority had spent only £0.4 million of the £1.8m total.  However according to Ms Murray, staff changes was the reason that “the detail of why full approval to complete works is not available” and she was unable to explain the reason why £1.4 million pounds for road improvements had been banked.

In the reply to Mr Gibson, Ms Murray promised to put “a clear timetable in place” and has hurriedly arranged a meeting with Transport Scotland to discuss how to spend the funds.

Commenting on the situation, Mr Gibson said the people of North Ayrshire will be astonished at the council ‘losing track’ of such a large sum of money, which was only looked for when Mr Gibson himself flagged up its existence.

He said:

“It is utterly ridiculous that nearly one and a half million pounds given to NAC has not been used for what it was needed for.  We need answers and we need them now as to who oversaw this and why it was allowed to happen.

“In a week when the very survival of vital Citizens Advice services in North Ayrshire are at stake following a £17,000 cut by the Labour controlled Council, it seems that they have managed to lose almost eighty times this amount – £1.4 million.”

Citizens Advice Bureau workers staged a protest last week after North Ayrshire Labour Councillor Alex Gallagher proposed cutting its grant further if the North Ayrshire Citizens’ Advice Service (NACAS) did not withdraw its notice to close the Largs and Kilbirnie offices.  The organisation had announced its intention to review the future of some offices after claiming its funding had been cut to less than it received ten years ago.

Commenting on the excuse that staff changes were the reason for the lack of tracking of the roads project, Mr Gibson added:

“The only explanation they can offer is that of ‘staff changes’.  The people of North Ayrshire deserve better – this is quite simply unacceptable.

“It surely shows that NAC needs a new broom, starting with the election of a hard-working and professional SNP Council leadership on 3 May and the removal of Labour’s dead hand from the Council’s finances.”

According to a Transport Scotland Document from November 2010, the A737 project at The Den was listed as being “in preparation”.

The work was described as “an interim road safety measure, high friction ‘anti-skid’ surfacing … and additional signing” with a programme for delivery being driven by North Ayrshire Council.

Last year an independent report on North Ayrshire Council by Audit Scotland said:

“Progress since the first Best Value report was published in 2005 has been disappointing overall.  The council still needs to put key processes in place so that it can maintain the quality of those services that are performing well, extend that level of performance to other service areas and demonstrate value for money.  Councillors need better information to help them make the difficult decisions they face in future.

“The financial strategy should be developed and the council needs to get better at showing that it is using its resources efficiently.”

North Ayrshire has thirty elected Councillors who represent eight multi-member wards. 

  • 12 Labour members
  • 8 SNP members
  • 2 Conservatives
  • 2 Liberal Democrats
  • 6 independent members