Penny-pinching’ threatens services

PUBLISHED: 07:16 25 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:08 31 May 2010

SERVICES may have to be cut across Uttlesford as the Government has refused to reimburse the £45,000 the district council spent on responding to the arrival of Lebanese evacuees. Around 600 British nationals arrived at Stansted Airport on three Government

SERVICES may have to be cut across Uttlesford as the Government has refused to reimburse the £45,000 the district council spent on responding to the arrival of Lebanese evacuees.

Around 600 British nationals arrived at Stansted Airport on three Government chartered planes from the Akrotiri Airport in Cyprus on the weekend of July 22.

Saffron Walden's MP is angry council tax payers have been left footing the bill after Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said UDC should have had reserves to meet the cost.

"She may think £45,000 is a trivial sum of money, but she refuses to acknowledge the expenditure arose directly from a decision made by the Government," he said.

Those 64 evacuees who needed to stay in the district were put up in the Hilton Hotel before being taken to the University of Essex in Colchester.

They stayed there for four weeks before being accommodated in Saffron Walden, Stansted and Great Dunmow by September 4.

Ms Kelly said UDC responded to the crisis in an efficient and commendable manner but local authorities should retain a level of reserves in order to respond to unexpected events.

"The level of reserves which any local authority retains is a matter for them, taking into account the assessment of risk in their locality," she said.

But Sir Alan labelled Ms Kelly's reasoning as "preposterous."

"Her suggestion that we should retain a level of reserves to cope with such a contingency is preposterous," he said.

"Great goodwill was shown to the Lebanese evacuees. The Government's response has been penny pinching and mean-spirited."

UDC leader, Cllr Mark Gayler, said the money would have to come from the council's reserves and could affect services. "It's money we've spent that we won't be getting back so it may have an impact on council services, but it's very difficult to say how as it's one of a number of budget issues which will have to be considered," he said.

"Our first instinct when faced with this sort of crisis is to do all we can to help. We are sure our community would back us in wanting to provide effective help to people in dire need, like those evacuated from Lebanon.

"However we have been badly let down by the Government. The evacuation was a Government decision, so they should have provided the funding to support it.

"We are one of very few local authorities that has a major airport within our boundary, and the Government has failed to recognise the particular responsibilities that places upon us.

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