Taxigate investigation costs £71,000

Coun Claire Hamilton and Coun Paul Wharton
Coun Claire Hamilton and Coun Paul Wharton
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COUNCIL bosses have been slammed for spending three times more than approved investigating the South Ribble taxi licensing scandal.

Last year, a budget of £25,000 was agreed for review of failings in the licensing department’s practices, after reports two taxi drivers were involved in sexually exploiting schoolgirls.

But South Ribble Council has so far spent more than £71,000 investigating – and the figure is still rising.

During the process, independent solicitors were called in to compile a report, and two members of staff were suspended. It is thought that costs of disciplinary hearings are also included in the figure.

A Governance Committee report states: “The approved budget was £25,000 and total costs incurred totalled £47,331. These costs will continue into 2016/17 and to date a further £24.5k has been committed. As the legal support is currently ongoing this amount will increase, however, the final sum is not known.”

Although the council say the cost reflects its commitment to a “thorough and proper review”, it has been criticised as a poor use of tax payers money, and the overspend cited as an example of poor management.

Labour Coun Paul Foster, leader of the opposition, said: “This continues to go from bad to worse. The way this whole situation has been handled is an absolute disgrace and now to discover that the council has spent £71,000 of public money investigating their own failing is outrageous. Added to this they did not seek approve for a significant overspend.

“It is time for the council leadership to accept full responsibility for this mess.

“We need a new leadership team that the council, and more importantly our residents in South Ribble can have confidence in.”

Coun Colin Clark, South Ribble Borough council Deputy Leader and cabinet member for finance and resources, said: “As soon as concerns were raised about our licensing service the council ordered an independent review. The original budget was an estimate made back in November and since then further money has been allocated.

“The cost reflects the council’s commitment to conducting a thorough and proper review to ensure our residents can feel confident that we are providing them with the right level of protection.

“Nothing matters more to this council than the safety of our residents – in particular that of our children and young people. You cannot put a price on public safety.

“A cross-party scrutiny task group has been set up to consider the handling of the review. Their comments and recommendations will then be brought back to full council.”