Councillors have clashed after it was revealed Burntwood Town Council spent more than £130,000 less than it had expected to.

Cllr Wai-Lee Ho and Cllr Sue Woodward

The figures were debated at a meeting of the authority last week.

A report blamed an “extraordinary year” which had seen many events and initiatives cancelled due to coronavirus.

Cllr Wai Lee Ho, deputy leader of the Conservative opposition group, said Labour had “wasted opportunities” to improve the town.

Cllr Ho said:

“When Labour took control back in 2019, this council increased its part of the council tax, its precept by 7% – Burntwood Town Council took more money from its residents, and now we discover that perhaps we didn’t need to because it over budgeted by over £133,000.

“Some might argue that it’s better to underspend than to overspend. That’s not how money works. There’s such a thing called inflation that erodes the value of money over time.

“It could be argued that not only has this council under the leadership of Labour wasted opportunities to spend £133,000 to improve the lives of the people of our good town, but they have also lost almost £1,000 to inflation by not spending this money. 

“I hope the leader takes full responsibility and ownership of this fiscal fiasco without any type of whataboutery – after all, the Labour party have been in control of this council for pretty much two years now.”

Cllr Wai-Lee Ho, Burntwood Town Council

But Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour-led council, said Cllr Ho was electioneering

“Cllr Ho was being completely disingenuous with his mini-rant.

“He omitted to mention, for example, that he had suggested a 10% increase in council tax in a meeting to discuss the budget last year. In the end, he voted for the lower 7% that I proposed as I thought 10% was higher than necessary.

“He must have forgotten that – I hadn’t.

“He also failed to mention the two hour meeting that I, the deputy leader and the town clerk had with him and his group leader the night before to explain in detail why this underspend had emerged, the reasons behind it and the actions we are taking in response, including increasing contingency reserves which he was originally all in favour of.

“He perhaps also forgot the text message he sent to me after the meeting to thank me? 

“Instead, he decided to do a party political broadcast-lite in advance of forthcoming elections. He was electioneering for the Conservative party, plain and simple, by having a go at Labour throughout his tirade, though he denies it now.”

Cllr Sue Woodward, Burntwood Town Council

“Nothing to gain from electioneering”

Cllr Ho has rejected claims his comments were a case of playing party politics and has asked for his Labour rival to retract her comments.

“I’m very disappointed that Cllr Woodward accused me of electioneering – I was not.

“I am not a candidate in the next elections so I have nothing to gain from electioneering. I am simply being an effective opposition by holding the leader and her team to account.

“I did try to raise a point of order to give Cllr Woodward a chance to retract the accusation but chairman Cllr Diane Evans would not allow it because Cllr Woodward accused me of electioneering during her summary and no other member may speak in the summary or after it. 

“I invite Cllr Woodward to retract her accusation.”

Cllr Wai-Lee Ho, Burntwood Town Council

Cllr Woodward told Lichfield Live that the town council had worked hard to try and bring an end to political point-scoring.

“When I became Leader of Burntwood Town Council, I was determined to bring an end to the toxic culture under the previous leadership which led to the council being referred to as a ‘basket case’,  to be open and transparent, to be inclusive and to work on a consensual basis.

“I am proud of the way we’ve turned this council around and the way all members have been involved in decision-making, including Cllr Ho and his Conservative colleagues, to forward our ambitions for a Better Burntwood.

“Cllr Ho’s politicking did nothing to advance that ambition. Quite the reverse. “

Cllr Sue Woodward, Burntwood Town Council

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9 Comments

  1. How refreshing to see a Conservative MP accusing the Labour party of not spending money. I thought the lefties were frivolous and wasteful? Perhaps Councillor Ho feels we should be throwing the Burntwood surplus he doesn’t want into the pot for one of Serco’s worthwhile causes – track & trace? PPE? or a pay-rise for the nurses?

  2. I commend Cllr Ho for voicing his concerns. There is no doubt that a £130,000 underspend is unacceptable at any time. This is particularly true during a period when that funding could have been put to good use for local charities, voluntary groups and businesses, not to mention for helping local communities to deal with the issues affecting them during the pandemic. Whatever the reasons, I think the majority party needs to work more productively with the Conservative councillors to benefit the community. The problem with criticising others for electioneering and points scoring is that in most cases it is the pot calling the kettle black.

  3. Cllr Ho was blatantly electioneering, plain and simple.

    Very convenient that he forgot their suggestion that council tax should go up by 10% last year. Had we followed their financial advice the underspend would have been higher. Also very convenient for him to claim that he isn’t electioneering when not bothering to raise his concerns until the run up to an election.

    As he has no interest in electioneering I expect we will not see him delivering leaflets or sharing posts for his party’s candidates in the May elections?After all he isn’t standing so has nothing to gain!

    He was fully aware of why and how the underspend has occurred. He also had full and open access to the council finances throughout the year, as did everyone else in his party. If they didn’t want it to look like politicking maybe they should have paid more attention and raised their concerns earlier on?

    One would also think he would know the budget was set prior to Covid making its impact, he was after all fully consulted on it. Covid resulted in disruption of lots of the plans that the Council had budgeted for before the pandemic, which have subsequently been delayed or stopped as things have progressed. Again he knew this but raised no concerns.

    Hopefully the Council meetings will be able to be broadcast for wider viewing soon, as he belatedly called for in his previous press release. Again, if he had paid attention, he’d have known broadcasting of meetings was being looked into some time ago by the Labour Group. When that happens, I suspect we may have to include the usual “This is a party political broadcast on behalf of the Conservative Party” before the Chair calls him to speak in future.

  4. Instead of petty tale telling to the press, So the money didn’t get spent last year , did anything happen last year? apart from people dying, losing their jobs, losing businesses, children going hungry, fear for the future. The money is still there. The changes at Burntwood Council has been amazing in only a few years it’s gone from a talking shop that does nothing and a local joke to a Professional Council, putting their promises into action, and no matter what party you belong to you should be proud of that, things are changing and instead of trying to score points, work together especially when you have women in charge there with decades of service to our Community , experience and knowledge and willing to include all in working towards a Better Burntwood, because the success of Burntwood Community is more important to them. Dare To Be Different Work Together Our Community needs it , now more than ever.

  5. The report on the underspend is on the Council’s website and people can judge for themselves how it came about. As it happens non of the current Conservative opposition were part of the previous Conservative Administration that left the Town Council with expensive problems to resolve in 2019 including a delayed Neighbourhood Plan, which has meant we have lost out on CIL money, a costly employment issue, where they knowingly employed someone without the skills or experience required for that post, and expensive health and safety issues to put right. I’m not even going to mention the shed collection.

    I just hope that no one from that incompetent administration gets back on to the Town Council.

    Councillor Ho’s defence is that he is not up for election so can we assume that he therefore will not be supporting his fellow Conservative candidates, Cllr Loughborough Rudd from ?? and Cllr Wilcox from Alrewas, in the County Council elections in May? In any case it was not a point of order – though he may think it was.

  6. Can I just pick up Barry Scott’s points please? Yes, the underspend was unacceptable. That’s why a detailed report was submitted to the Council, in public, and why my Deputy Leader, the Clerk and I spent two hours the previous evening going through the details with Cllr Ho and his Group Leader. It was in part due to an outdated accounting system that we have been trying to deal with, as the report states. We’ve had many such systems and procedures – or lack of – to bring into the 2020s over the past two years and have made a great deal of progress, until Covid prevented some being completed. As for working together across Parties for the benefit of Burntwood, I agree 100% and that’s why I set out key principles when I became Leader in May 2019 to work collaboratively, cooperatively and consensually with ALL councillors, not just those in my own Party in order to counter the toxic culture of the previous years. On the whole, it’s worked. That’s why Cllr Ho’s anti-Labour rant (he used the word Labour several times) was, in my view, blatant electioneering. Of course, as a Conservative activist, he’s entitled to do that but he can’t have it both ways.

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