More than £5,000 destined for good causes was diverted to pay costs of the district council’s own magazine, South Holland Now.
Councillors were given the chance to “advertise” how they spend their ward budgets – 29 opted to do so and paid £175 out of those budgets for the privilege – and eight declined.
Among those turning down the offer were three Independents from Long Sutton, two Independents from Sutton Bridge and two Tories from Spalding’s most deprived ward, St Paul’s, who all decided the cash would be better spent on community projects.
St Paul’s councillor Dave Ashby said: “We opted out from promoting ourselves with other people’s money.”
News of ward budget cash being spent on ‘ads’ in South Holland Now was broken by Sutton Bridge councillor Chris Brewis.
Couns Brewis and Michael Booth were asked by residents why they weren’t featured – and said in a newsletter they wanted to keep cash for good causes in Sutton Bridge rather than hand over £300-plus to the council.
Long Sutton member Simon Booth said: “All we would have been doing was advertise ourselves and I didn’t want to be seen to be contributing towards that – and if we do advertise ourselves, like we put that Christmas message in your paper, we fund it out of our own pockets.”
South Holland Now was set up to publicise Bank Holiday waste and recycling collections and feature council services.
Almost the entire Christmas edition is devoted to ward budgets, featuring councillors – including leader Gary Porter, deputy leaders Paul Przyszlak and Nick Worth, and Independents’ leader Angela Newton – and projects receiving cash.
The magazine doesn’t reveal councillors paid to appear and says individual £5,000 budgets “provide a straightforward method of providing community facilities, such as benches, litter bins or even play equipment”.
Coun Newton used some space to advertise drop-in sessions for residents to meet her, Coun Graham Dark and Coun Roger Perkins, and said it was the most cost effective way of doing that. Coun Dark doesn’t have his own paid-for entry.
Coun Worth said the magazine is always funded from council tax payers’ money and members had a choice over appearing.
The council declined to say why members were charged. The £7,000 magazine production and delivery costs were met by members’ budgets – with the 29 councillors’ contributions adding up to £5,075 – and departmental advertising.
A spokesman said: “Every South Holland district councillor was offered the opportunity of allocating £175 of their designated members’ budget to talk directly to their ward’s residents. There were 29 councillors who opted to do this. They used the magazine to tell South Holland residents about some of the projects which have been supported through their budgets, how they could be told about projects worthy of consideration in the future, and about forthcoming events and surgeries. The feedback about the edition has been very positive.”