No trace of ‘missing’ £300K at council

Bone of contention: Ripon leisure centre.
Bone of contention: Ripon leisure centre.
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The district auditor might be called in to investigate what has happened to £300,000 of Ripon City Council’s funds after a search of the accounts found no trace of it.

Coun Alan Skidmore (Con) raised the matter at the council’s meeting on Monday, saying he had been made aware of claims in a leaflet published by Coun Peter Horton (Ind) which said the Independents had secured a “large sum of money” – £300,000 – after new management arrangements were introduced at Ripon Leisure Centre.

But Coun Skidmore said that after carrying out a review of the council’s accounts for the previous four years he could find “no evidence” in the books to support this claim.

“There is nothing in our accounts about this money. I am coming to my fourth year on the council and I have been the chairman of finance from last year and I have seen nothing in our accounts,” he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Coun Skidmore said: “I brought it to the council’s attention to try to find out where it had come from.

“If Coun Horton can give an explanation to the council then we will not have to go to the district auditor.

“I don’t believe there is £300,000 in the accounts. Since I was told about it six weeks ago, I have been looking into the accounts and I can’t find it anywhere.”

Coun Horton, who published the leaflet on behalf of fellow Independents Couns Sid Hawke and Pauline McHardy, defended the claim, saying the Independents released the money after negotiations with Harrogate Borough Council to take over the freehold of the leisure centre.

“I suppose the money will be in the overall accounts of the council but I don’t run the books. Coun Skidmore should know what’s going on,” said Coun Horton. “This is what the Independents have done, secured the release of the money and it did not have to be earmarked to run the leisure centre.”

A £300,000 bond was donated to the city council by Safeway in the 1990s as part of the planning deal which brought the supermarket – now owned by Morrisons – to Harrogate Road in the city.

Under planning gain rules in place at the time, Safeway provided the city with the leisure centre on Dallamires Lane and the £300,000 bond was put in place to pay a £19,000-a-year fee to Harrogate Borough Council for running the facility under a leasehold management arrangement.

As previously reported in the Gazette, in March 2009 the borough council finalised a proposal from the then Independent-controlled Ripon City Council that it take over ownership of the Ripon Leisure Centre building, freeing the £300,000 bond, on condition the the city council handed over £125,000 for investment in the facility.

The upgraded facilities, which cost £285,000 and included a match-funded investment of £125,000 from the borough council, opened in April 2010.

During Monday’s council meeting, Coun Skidmore also suggested the district auditor should investigate the sale of Queen’s Diamond Jubilee commemorative mugs by the council in 2012.

Coun Skidmore said he had identified a discrepancy between the audit figures from the sale of the mugs and the amount of mugs still held by the council and said he doesn’t know where the “missing number” of mugs was.

“We know what we have got left over and we know how much money we have received but the number we have sold is out of balance,” he said.

“Neither I, nor the council’s officers, can identify the reason for this discrepancy.”