Questions over council’s spend on Stevenage Football Club

A COUNCIL’S continuing financial support of a successful league football club during tough economic times was called into question at the local authority’s 2012/13 budget-setting meeting last week.

Since 1995, Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) has invested �3.5 million in Stevenage Football Club.

Now the council is sacrificing �50,000 a year in the club’s rent until 2015 to allow the money to be spent on the ground.

At SBC’s budget meeting last week, leader of the Lib Dems, Robin Parker, questioned the Labour council’s decision to continue to support the club financially. “Millions on both capital and revenue have been spent by the council on the club. Now we have a highly successful club, do we still need to support it?

“[Historically] we have cut grants to voluntary groups, bus services and the museum.”

But SBC’s leader, Sharon Taylor, has defended the investment.

“Between 1995 and 2006 we were investing in the fabric of the ground to get it up to league standard.

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“From 2006 to 2009 the club wanted to develop the academy, which is a community facility, so we put money into that.

“It’s �3.5 million in total.

“Going into the league recently, the club needed work on the west stand and CCTV so we have foregone �50,000 a year in rent until 2015 to enable them to do the work they need to on the ground.

“The council is very, very proud of our football club and will continue to support them.”

Also at the budget meeting, and as predicted in last week’s Comet, full council voted for a council tax precept freeze.

With the Hertfordshire County Council and Hertfordshire Police elements also frozen, council tax in Stevenage will remain the same as 2011/12 - �1,455.17 for a Band D property.

Areas of proposed investment outlined in last week’s Comet and approved at the meeting include:

- �250,000 into a mortgage scheme to help first time buyers

- �90,000 into an apprenticeship scheme

- Three-month free parking trial in the St George’s Way multi-storey and Primett Road car parks on Saturdays

- Re-branding and re-launching of the indoor market

- Reinstating holiday play schemes in Symonds Green and Bedwell

- Building about 12 homes for social housing every year for the next 30 years

Savings totalling �729,000 will be made in areas including staff reduction and shared services.

Cllr Taylor said: “Our services are often a lifeline for people, providing much-needed support in difficult times.

“We have looked at whether there are any additional measures we can take to help and support our residents and businesses and am pleased to be announcing some initiatives aimed at doing just that.”

Opposition leader, Conservative Graham Clark, said: “Some of the shared services could have been addressed earlier, but I believe significant progress has been made.”

Cllr Parker said: “The efficiencies that have been introduced – why weren’t they made earlier? As long ago as 1984 we suggested efficiencies and were shouted down. Here we are and we have done it.”