Market Rasen Town Council has been forced to explain a £24,000 increase in its administration costs – in the space of just one year.
Balance sheets shared with the public at the annual town meeting revealed costs for 2017/18 stood at £106,888 - with the previous year’s total just £82,908. Councillors came under fire from resident Richard Brooks, who accused the authority of not explaining the sudden jump in spending.
Coun Steve Bunney insisted the rise was mostly down to several outgoings being reclassified as ‘administration costs’.
But he did admit that a legal case against the town market’s fruit and veg trader had added thousands to the bill.
Mr Brooks said: “It’s a rather a large increase and it’s not explained. As taxpayers, I think we’ve got a right to know if someone’s salary has gone up 20 per cent. I’d like to know.”
He then questioned the council on the legal costs of taking on the Norths’ fruit and veg stall when the trader disputed an eviction notice.
Coun Bunney said the 2017/18 legal costs in the case - which saw the town council admit defeat - had been about £10,000. He later revealed the total net cost to the council of the legal action over two years had been £15,000 to £16,000.
Mr Brooks said: “£10,000 for a case that came to nothing? Paid for by the council taxpayers. It’s a lot of money.”
Mayor John Matthews said: “We tried to settle way before but they [the Norths] would not accept. Eventually we said ‘take it to the judge’.”
After the meeting, Coun Bunney clarified the rise had been due to salaries and consultancy fees, including some reclassification (£11,500), payments deferred from 2016/17 (£6,000) and legal and professional [including accountancy] charges (about £5,000).
He said in 2017/18 the net cost of the Norths’ legal case was £8,108, not the £10k sum mentioned at the meeting.
And he said there was also expenditure on the case in the 2016/17 financial year.
At the time of going to press, Coun Bunney said he was unable to obtain the exact figures due to the absence of the council’s finance clerk.
He said: “I do know that the total legal and professional expenditure for that year was £8,412 – so the figure will be less than that.
“As the professional costs are usually within the region of £1 to £2K I would suggest the figure was around £6.5k but cannot be sure.”
Jennie North and Bryan Spittlehouse, of North’s Fruit and Veg, took legal action against the town council after being served with an eviction notice for allegedly ‘moving council property’, opening the market without ‘correct authorisation’ and ‘unacceptable behaviour’.
A court document, approved by Leeds High Court of Justice in August 2016, stated that the council conceded that in revoking the market licence, it failed to provide sufficient reasons for its decision.