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Bounced cheque means councillors must pay up

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: January 04, 2013

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EMBARRASSED parish councillors have been forced to pay more than £1,000 out of their own pockets after being quizzed by villagers over financial irregularities.

The payment is to a contractor who erected new stiles and repaired others along footpaths at Withiel.

A council cheque for the cost of the work was not honoured by a bank.

Now parish councillors have voted to pay for the work themselves, saying they believe they will then own the stiles – which they intend to rip out.

If the bill had been paid from Withiel Parish Council's account, it would have left it broke and without enough money to pay the new parish clerk's wages in the coming months.

Tenders for the work had not been sought and the bank refused to accept the council's cheque to the contractor because of problems with a signature.

Former deputy chairman Richard Thomas raised concerns about alleged breaches of local government rules during an open session of the parish council.

Mr Thomas, who was a parish councillor for eight years until he stood down 11 months ago, said he discovered the situation with the stiles payment when looking through the council's accounts.

"The council has a new clerk, and because I used to help do that job she asked if I could assist her in going through the books to help prepare a precept for next year, which is when I discovered the problems with the payment for the stiles," he said.

"Withiel Parish Council has a precept of around £3,000 per year, and if the contractor had been paid from its account the council would have had no money left for the remaining five months (of the financial year)," said Mr Thomas.

"I raised this at the last meeting and asked why due process hadn't been followed and how the council intended to pay its bills in the next few months.

"In the end, councillors voted to pay for the work themselves so that the stiles would belong to them, allowing the councillors to rip them out of the ground, which is all very bizarre."

Withiel resident Pat Malone, who was at the meeting, said councillors were considering borrowing the money and adding it to next year's parish precept.

"While borrowing money might keep the parish council functioning, it wouldn't answer the basic question of why the checks and balances put in place to protect public funds had apparently been circumvented," he said.

Parish chairman John Piper was not available for comment as the Cornish Guardian went to press.

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