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Official: Council is wasting our cash
SOUTHEND Council is one of the three worst local authorities in England at managing its finances, a damning report says.
The Audit Commission's annual report into money management gave the Conservative council just one star out of four for the way it looked after the town's coffers.
Only Liverpool and the Isles of Scilly received the same low rating for the 2006/7 financial year.
Tories claim the report is already out of date and does not take account of improvements resulting from a reorganisation of senior officers.
Opposition groups, however, were quick to point out areas where they believed the council was still wasting money.
Independent group leader Martin Terry said: "There are areas we've identified where considerable cost savings could be made and things could be done far better and more efficiently.
"For example, as a council we are currently spending approximately £3.5million on taxis and it's an absolute outrage."
Labour group leader David Norman said: "My group has consistently criticised the use of very highly paid consultants, on which we spent hundreds of thousands of pounds in the past few years, clearly to little avail. This must reflect on the Conservative administration who have been responsible for running the council for the past eight years.
"It calls into question the reorganisation of the last 12 months, when a number of key officials, including the borough treasurer, were made redundant."
Tory leader Nigel Holdcroft said although the audit had only just been published, it was carried out a year ago - before the council was restructured and a new strategy put into place.
He said: "We wouldn't have gone through all we have during the current year if we didn't realise something needed to be done.
"There's nothing in there that's a surprise. We'll be excited to see the progress during the current year."
Mr Holdcroft said the council had not spent a significant amount of money on consultants during the 2006/07 financial year.
An in-house procurement team had now been set up to make savings.
He said: "I would say what we've done during the current year is to address the problems revealed in the report."