Lancaster councillor hits back at Taxpayers Alliance over beer and rock band ‘wasteful spending’ claims

Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris, centre, with Lancaster City Coun Charlie Edwards, third from left, and members of the Taxpayers Alliance.
Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris, centre, with Lancaster City Coun Charlie Edwards, third from left, and members of the Taxpayers Alliance.
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“It’s almost like they’re suggesting we’ve bought a load of Carlsberg to have a booze up.”

That was the reaction from Lancaster City Coun Darren Clifford following claims from a pressure group that the council is wasting tax payers’ money on beer and rock bands.

Carlsberg's new multi-pack beer cans

Carlsberg's new multi-pack beer cans

The Taxpayers Alliance visited Morecambe at the weekend and spent time campaiging with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris and Bare City Councillor Charlie Edwards.

The group, which is based in London and campaigns for a low tax economy, says that Lancaster City Council’s £5,147.78 payment to rock band The Manfreds and £3,177.34 spent on Carlsberg lager over three months is “wasteful spending”, and that it should be “focusing both time and effort on front line services not speculating on events, such as rock concerts, that might lose money”.

The costs involved are due to the fact that Lancaster City Council runs The Platform venue in Morecambe, where it stages regular events.

But Lancaster City Coun Darren Clifford has hit back, saying a leaflet sent out to residents in Morecambe is “completely bogus”, and that “if councils spent their time retreating into a statutory services bubble with increasing costs and increasing demands, and ignored the calls from central government to commercialise, then they would end up going bust like Northamptonshire, and like Lancashire County Council is going to be.”

Coun Darren Clifford.

Coun Darren Clifford.

He also added that when The Manfreds, who are due to perform at The Platform on April 14, come to Morecambe, they always sell out, making a profit for the council.

He said the Carlsberg lager, along with other beverages sold at The Platform, also makes a profit.

The Taxpayers Alliance says on its website: “Between 2016 and 2019 the council spent £3,844,230 on agency and consultancy fees, but will raise council tax by nearly five per cent this year.

“At a time when budgets are squeezed, the council has spent taxpayers’ money on completely unnecessary costs, including £5,140 on a performance by a rock band and over £3,000 on Carlsberg lager.

The Manfreds.

The Manfreds.

“Where large commercial investments are concerned the council should seek professional advice and consider if the risks are worth it, as taxpayers will ultimately pay the price if they fail.

“Instead of prioritising the essential services people pay for, we have found a list a mile long of examples of local taxpayers’ money being wasted.

“That’s why we are bringing our War on Waste campaign to Morecambe, to shine a light on the situation and call for local politicians to get a grip.”

Conservative MP Mr Morris said on his Facebook page: “Pleased to join the team from Taxpayers Alliance in Morecambe today to highlight how the Labour run Lancaster City Council is wasting our money.”

Carlisle Clog and Sword Dancers perform outside the Platform for the Splendid Day Out festival in Morecambe

Carlisle Clog and Sword Dancers perform outside the Platform for the Splendid Day Out festival in Morecambe

But Labour Coun Clifford, who is cabinet member for leisure, culture and tourism and climate change, said he would be referring the leaflet to the liaison officer at Lancashire Constabulary as he feels that it is against election law.

“It’s almost like they’re suggesting that we’ve bought a load of Carlsberg to have a booze up,” he said.

“The leaflet they have sent round in Morecambe is completely bogus.

“They don’t want us to be wasting money, we don’t want to be wasting money.

“But if councils spent their time retreating into a statutory services bubble with increasing costs and increasing demands, and ignored the calls from central government to commercialise, then they would end up going bust like Northamptonshire, and like Lancashire County Council is going to be.

“The Tory run Lancashire County Council will have a deficit that they cannot manage within two years.

“They just haven’t done what the government has asked them to.

“That’s the irony in it all, that Conservative councils haven’t done what the government has asked them to.”

He went on to defend the council’s spending on other things it has been criticised for, such as £48,200 on rubbish bin sensors, £44,198 on chauffeur services for the Mayor of Lancaster, and £101,700 on converting council properties into student accommodation.

He said: “The chauffeur service figure is over four years, and it’s going to become an electric vehicle soon, saving us money.

“The bin sensors will be placed into street bins, not household bins.

“It allows us to be more savvy about using council time to empty bins, and more importantly to reduce fuel costs which means that we save money on the back of that, instead of driving around the district looking for full bins.

“Converting council properties into student accommodation, as far as I can see, is just lies.

“If they’ve got an example of that I’d love to see it.

“What we are doing is enabling bespoke student properties to be built so that current domestic properties can be freed up for families.”

The Taxpayers Alliance also questioned a £3.8m spend on agency and consultancy fees over four years, and staff costs.

A spokewoman for Lancaster City Council said: “Lancaster City Council does not recognise much of the information presented by the Council Tax Payers Alliance.

“One example being multiple years’ salaries being added up to a single figure.

“Also, some of the spend seems to relate to that which generates income.

“The council’s agreed budget and spending plans are provided clearly and in detail on the council’s website at www.lancaster.gov.uk/transparency.”

Coun Clifford added: “In terms of agency and consultancy fees, I’m presuming that a lot of this will be down to a number of things including the £250,000 we’ve pledged towards the Eden Project, which we make no apologies for, consultancy fees for GVA who advised us over the Canal Corridor, and stopped us from wasting £33m of public money if we’d gone with the previous deal.

“They’re (the Taxpayers Alliance) are clearly not an independent group.

“Telling misleading and quite frankly bogus facts that are being pedalled by local Tories, is not the way to paint themselves as an independent voice for tax payers.”