Marshalswick South Focus Team

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Lib Dems try to stop County Council throwing away money!

by awitherick on 11 February, 2011

Liberal Democrat Councillors demand changes to the way the county handles developers payments for community benefit following almost £500,000 being repaid to developers.

Senior county councillors have demanded massive changes in the way the county council handles monies it received from developers to help mitigate the effect of developments and to fund such things as school places.

Following a detailed scrutiny review senior county councillors have made 16 recommendations calling for root and branch changes in the way the council manages the current funds.

A special scrutiny review of what are known as Section 106 agreements was called for by the Liberal Democrat opposition and Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst was the vice chair of the scrutiny review.

A detailed report has demanded wholesale changes in the way the processes are dealt with to ensure money is well spent and not lost. The County Council currently holds some £47m of developers’ money to be spent on roads, education, libraries and play areas.

The review follows the Liberal Democrats exposure of the fact that in the last five years no less than £300,000 of highways money had to been returned to developers, as well as £184,000 in respect of education and other services, because officials had failed to spend it within the time given in legal agreements. There is still some £1,000,000 in time-expired agreements that officials have also failed to spend but where they are seeking permission from developers to keep the money even though the legal agreement has expired.

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said: “The scrutiny review exposed different procedures across the council, lack of any central management, the failure to consult local councillors, long delays in spending the money and spending on projects not related to the developments or in accordance with residents’ wishes – as well as the loss of money. The review also looked at what neighbouring councils, like Cambridgeshire, did and found they had a simpler and more robust system that had ensured no loss of money.”

Councillors felt that the aim should be that no money is returned and that departments should be planning what the money is to be spent on as soon as monies are received.

Cllr Stephen Giles-Medhurst said: “We had a review some four years ago and were assured that procedures were changed to minimise these problems then. It’s clear from our latest review that this has not occurred and we have lost money since.There is an urgent need to centralise with one person being responsible for overseeing this to ensure no monies are lost and what we hold is spent correctly. We need annual monitoring reports and accountability as well as a new culture to ensure past mistakes are not made again. The scrutiny recommendations do that. I expect them to be all accepted and put in place so Herts residents do not lose out.”

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