Exclusive: How Keighley council ‘wasted’ thousands on a cart horse

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FURTHER details of “reckless” and potentially unlawful spending at a Yorkshire council have been revealed in a leaked confidential report.

The 63-page report into Keighley Town Council’s 2012/13 accounts reveals that the council, which has an annual budget of around £700,000, repeatedly broke financial rules, failed to safeguard public money and took decisions without considering its legal powers.

Auditors raised serious concerns about the way decisions were made on purchases including the acquisition of a horse called Bella for £3,500.

The horse was bought in order to pull an old police cart at the council’s Police Museum project but, according to auditors, the decision to buy it was not properly authorised and “may be contrary to law”.

Civic campaigners told The Yorkshire Post that Bella was sold a year later for £833 because she wasn’t strong enough to pull the cart.

The audit report does not mention that Bella was the second horse bought by the council.

A horse called Sampson, bought in 2012, was sold at a loss of around £2,000 because it was “skittish around children,” according to council documents.

Council critic Elizabeth Mitchell, who has helped expose the wrongdoing, said the horse purchases were “frivolous, reckless and a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

“The loss of money on the sale of both horses is over £4,500 and we also had to pay for the upkeep, insurance and stabling.”

The auditors said the council had not provided a formal invoice or alternative quotes relating to the horse.

The report adds: “In our view the Council has been unable to demonstrate either that it considered the power on which it might rely to purchase a horse or the delegated powers available to incur expenditure.

“In our view the Council has not acted in accordance with its Financial Regulations in respect of the purchase of the horse and related equipment.

“It is our view therefore on the basis of the above that the expenditure incurred may be contrary to law.”

Auditors were critical of the council’s project to create a civic centre, which campaigners say has saddled the council with excessive debt.

The council did not identify or address the financial viability of the civic centre project before it commenced.

“In our view the business plan prepared is inadequate given the significance of the financial commitment involved.”

The report singled out the council’s purchase of Christmas lights for £3,300 which were bought without proper authorisation.

The spending has previously been branded “reckless” by Keighley MP Kris Hopkins. Detectives are due to review material held by auditors.

Town Mayor Councillor Graham Mitchell was not available to comment but recently said that suggestions in the report of potentially unlawful acts were the opinions of accountants and not lawyers.

Senior councillor Michael Westerman said it was unfair councillors were “tarnished with the same brush.”

People were mistaken if they believed council money had gone “missing”, he added.

“There is no money missing. I cannot see what the hoo-ha is about...I would not say it’s a really bad report.”

Asked about Bella, he said the decision to buy the animal “left me baffled.”