‘Scandalous’ errors lead to big council write-offs

Blackpool Lights Switch On 2014
Blackpool Lights Switch On 2014
  • Town hall chiefs have written off £94,000 worth of debt
  • £45,000 of the total was written off due to “local authority error”
  • £7,900 was as a result of a food festival which was part of last year’s Illuminations Switch-On
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Town hall chiefs have written off £94,000 worth of debt including nearly £8,000 racked up as a result of the food festival held as part of last year’s Illuminations Switch-On weekend.

Around £45,000 of the total was written off due to “local authority error”.

Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn

A report to councillors says the debts listed are all “where there is no prospect of recovery or recovery of the debt is inappropriate”.

The total sum of £94,098 is accounted for by seven different amounts of money which are owed to the council.

These include £7,900 owed as a result of a food festival held on the Promenade near Central Pier last year.

The report says the event “did not attract as many visitors as they had hoped” and “failed to make a profit” with the company subsequently going insolvent while owing fees for three food concessions and an ice cream stand.

“Where any error on our part contributes to the need to write off a debt we take it very seriously and, where appropriate, action is taken and staff re-training takes place in order to prevent it from happening again.

Coun Simon Blackburn

A sum of £27,776 relates to unpaid client contributions to social care, when the council did not send out invoices in time.

Errors are also blamed for having to write off £17,958 in unpaid rent after the council failed to fix a leaking roof at a building it was the landlord of.

Blackpool Council leader Coun Simon Blackburn said steps were being taken to ensure such errors were not repeated.

He said: “Writing off debt is never welcome. However, it’s a fact of life for local authorities and businesses when their debtors go out of business or pass away.

Tony Williams

Tony Williams

“Where any error on our part contributes to the need to write off a debt we take it very seriously and, where appropriate, action is taken and staff re-training takes place in order to prevent it from happening again.”

The council said it was disappointed the food festival had not worked out.

Deputy leader Coun Gillian Campbell said: “The food festival organisers wanted to come to Blackpool to capitalise on the large volumes of people who were in town for Switch-On weekend.

“It is a shame that the venture did not work out for them.

“We would point out that all other food concessions associated with Switch-On paid their fees in full and, despite this write-off, there were no overall losses incurred by Blackpool Council in relation to the festival.”

But opposition group leader Coun Tony Williams demanded the council take better care of its finances.

He said: “I can understand that every business has to make reluctant decisions to write off debts when there is no possible chance of recovering the money, but some of the recent council’s sundry debt write offs look at best bad management and at worst incompetence.

“The council was forewarned by local traders that the food festival would not work as many of the items sold were already available along the Prom.”

He also criticised the money lost through errors.

He said: “This is scandalous and there is absolutely no excuse for the council to make such a high cost error. It’s hypocritical of the council to continue to force redundancies and claim back important funding across the town when they clearly haven’t got their own house in financial order.”

This year the council has had to find budget savings of £26m due to government cuts.

Among the services facing the axe are the last two council-run nurseries which are being closed to save £250,000. despite protests from parents.