The row over grants came to a head on Monday night with a council leader hitting back at accusations money has been ‘stolen’ from Haverhill.
Accepting a 2,500-signature petition from Haverhill Town Council – calling for the reinstatement of a £128,000 council tax support grant – leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council John Griffiths pointed out that millions had been invested in the town.
He cited £750,000 in Haverhill Research Park, £9.25million in the cinema, £5million in a refit of the leisure centre and £2million worth of improvements in Queen Street, Jubilee Walk and Cleales car park, with a further £750,000 earmarked for the High Street, and £2million on the community football project.
He added: “It is not Haverhill Town Council’s money you are talking about – or ours.
“The money belongs to the residents of Haverhill – and you [the town council], with respect and however important, are not Haverhill.
“I am proud to stand by the borough council’s track record and continuing investment in Haverhill which has, in no small part, made it a very different place today than it was 10 years ago.”
But Haverhill mayor Roger André, who presented the petition to the borough council,said: “This issue is not about reserves held by Haverhill Town Council, nor is it about historic investment or expenditure in Haverhill.
“It is solely about the borough withholding funds intended to mitigate the impact of council tax benefit changes.
“Cllr Griffiths has entered the public domain on this matter with diversionary excuses and inaccurate representations of the extent of the cut in funding. Members should be alert to attempts by cabinet members to continue to misrepresent the facts in this matter to avoid exposing ‘back door funding cuts’.”
Haverhill town clerk Colin Poole said he was “dismayed” at the speech from councillor Griffiths.
“He told the people of Haverhill to stop carping on about £30k, after all, we are collecting your rubbish for you, so be satisfied - and there was me thinking that was a statutory duty carried out everywhere,” he said.
“That was part of the list of claims designed to show the fatherly patronage of the borough when it comes to Haverhill - like some Dickensian benefactor to Haverhill’s Tiny Tim.
“Amongst it was £25k of councillor locality budget, as if these were alms to the poor as opposed to something every councillor gets across the district to spend in their locality.
“And the £750,000 for the Haverhill Research Park wasn’t even borough money - it was government funding lent by the borough to the developer and repaid.
“Many town councillors are concerned this money will not be reinvested in Haverhill again but will disappear into borough coffers.”
Town councillor Maureen Byrne told the meeting: “It is clear that all sections of the town council, in addition to a huge majority of the residents of Haverhill, support this petition.
“The sums allocated were clearly destined for town and parish councils, and it is entirely wrong to withhold any part of that funding.”
Haverhill and Kedington Labour group launched the petition earlier this year, calling for the borough to restore the grant, which it is phasing out over four years by cutting a quarter – £32,233 – annually.
Haverhill town councillor Gary Stroud said earlier this year: “We demand that the borough council gives us back the grant they have stolen from Haverhill.”