Revealed: £1.3m of road improvement cash left unspent by councillors
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
A total of £1.3million which could have been used by councillors on road improvements in Suffolk went unspent, it has been revealed.
Each of Suffolk's 75 county councillors is given a "highways locality budget" to spend on small road improvements in their divisions.
The amount they get varies depending on the population of their division and its characteristics, while the funds cannot be used for small things such as fixing potholes.
Any unspent money has to be returned at the end of their four-year term.
Now, a Freedom of Information request by this newspaper has showed many returned thousands of pounds which could have been spent.
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The councillor who returned the most was Great Cornard Conservative Peter Beer, who had nearly £67,000 go back into council coffers.
Second on the list was Labour group leader Sarah Adams, who returned almost £56,000.
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But many councillors, including Ms Adams, said it has been too difficult to persuade council officials to go ahead with schemes they have suggested.
"You ask your voters what they want and then you have to go to Suffolk Highways, where officials tell you why it can't be done," she said.
"Then you have to negotiate with them, eventually get a scheme together and then take it to Kier, where you have to go through the whole process again.
"At any point, it can fall apart."
She had hoped to improve the ongoing parking situation in Lattice Avenue in her St John's division.
"We held a meeting which was well attended but it became clear there that people just could not agree on what they wanted," she said.
"Some wanted a residents' parking scheme.
"There was talk of yellow lines, and then there were issues over dropped kerbs - and eventually it was clear that there was no solution that would have widespread acceptance.
"But the process was expensive and cumbersome and there was no final result."
Mr Beer said he had been preparing to spend much of his locality budget on a new zebra crossing to make walking safer for pupils from two schools.
However, the developer of a new estate stepped in to fund the crossing - meaning the council funds were not needed.
Official opposition leader at the council, Andrew Stringer - who heads the Green, Liberal Democrat and Independent group - did manage to spend most of his locality budget in Upper Gipping, returning just £1,500.
But he was not impressed by the process.
He said: "I am appalled that I had to return anything at all. The budget can make a big difference in some small communities.
"However, the way it is run is disgraceful - it is so cumbersome and difficult to access the money. I think that is because the department doesn't have the resources to handle the councillors' requests."
Cabinet member Paul West, who represents Bixley division in Ipswich, was one of two councillors to spend every penny of his locality budget - along with Rachel Hood from Newmarket.
Mr West said: "There is support from officers for those who need help and most councillors have spent most of their budget on projects for their community.
"There have been some cases where that has not been possible - but for Labour to claim it has not worked at all is not right."
He said that while it was not possible to spend the budget on repairing potholes that met the council's own criteria for action, it was possible to devise schemes that incorporated road repairs such as smaller holes.
Two members in Kesgrave division managed to overspend their allocation by £205.
There are 12 two-member divisions in Suffolk. These are the figures for those divisions which are about twice the size of the one-member divisions.