Parish Council pays £20K to chairman to mow the village greens

All is not well in the sleepy village of Long Preston, near Settle, in North Yorkshire.  For 20 years, Trevor Shuttleworth kept the village looking immaculate, and charged around £1000 a year for mowing the village greens. Any additional work needed was negotiated on a case by case basis, and accounts show that in 2007, Mr Shuttleworth was paid £2,887.

The contract was then put out to tender, and only one bid was submitted, so it was awarded to the newly elected Chairman of the Parish Council, Nick Thwaite. I must emphasise that no-one is accusing Mr Thwaite, or his deputy who awarded him the contract, of any wrongdoing, however in 2008 the costs of mowing went in a sharp upwards direction and came in at £6,990. In 2009 they increased to £14,863, mainly because the council paid for a new mower costing £5,557. The 2010 accounts reveal that £4,275 was spent on grass cutting and lengthsmen duties, representing 15 per cent of the authority’s £28,000 income.

In contrast, neighbouring Cowling Parish Council employees its own lengthsman at a cost of £8 per hour - £10 an hour less than Long Preston pay Mr. Thwaite, who is standing down from lengthsman duties from next year. As a result of this, Craven District Council has received a number of complaints from residents of Long Preston.

In the grand scheme of things, some might think a few thousand pounds is not a lot of money, but in percentage terms, it is a sizeable chunk of this parish council's budget. Local residents don't like feeling they have been ripped off in any way. They want to make sure their precept money is being spent wisely. I also don't think there would have been as much fuss made of this if the contract had been awarded to anyone other than the chairman. Surely everyone involved could have seen trouble brewing in the distance when a newly elected chairman bags the contract?

A few years ago, my mother-in-law requested a copy of her parish council's accounts. The Parish Clerk wasn't sure how to respond as no-one has requested a copy before. I overheard the telephone conversation, and you could tell he was starting to sweat at the thought of a resident scrutinising the council's spending decisions. In the end there was nothing amiss, but this is why transparency is so vital to any democracy.

No matter how small the sums of money are, we expect our cash to be spent wisely. This is something all politicians should remember and not pay lip service too.



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