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Costs to toll payers are a 'PR disaster'

PUBLISHED: 10:19 19 March 2011

The Broads Authority has been accused of a "PR disaster" after approving a budget that will see an extra £200,000 of boat toll payers' cash spent on general overheads.

At yesterday’s budget-setting meeting, authority members wavered on a recommendation put forward at last month’s navigation committee meeting that the impact on toll payers of having to pay an increased share of administrative costs should be cushioned with transitional funding – amounting to £100,000 for the coming financial year – drawn from the national park grant.

Instead it was agreed that any decision on transitional funding should only be made in May after the authority learns whether it has been successful in securing an EU Prisma (Promoting integrated sediment management) grant of 900,000 euros to support dredging.

Martin Broom, chairman of the navigation committee, reminded the meeting that there was a lot of concern among toll payers about their money being used for overheads.

He said the navigation committee had only agreed the budget on the basis of it including the £100,000 of transitional funding.

“That would have meant toll payers having to pay an extra £102,000 towards overheads, and there was a lot of concern that this was too much. Now they will be paying an extra £202,000,” he said.

“From a PR point of view that is very, very serious. In fact, it is a PR disaster.”

Mr Broom said the reduction in national park grant the authority was facing for the coming year was £227,000, so it was easy to see why toll payers were convinced they were being asked to make up almost the entire shortfall.

Broads Authority vice-chairman Alan Mallett agreed the authority should stick to what had been recommended by both the navigation committee and the authority’s resource allocation working group.

He said: “I feel we need to be consistent and I am also concerned about the impact this change will have on our reputation.

“It will add fuel to the fire of the navigators and that is quite bad enough already. It is not worth the ill-feeling that will arise.”

Mr Mallett proposed that if the budget did go forward without the transitional funding there should be a guarantee it would be added if the EU grant was not forthcoming. However, his amendment was defeated.

Authority chief executive John Packman said delaying a decision on transitional funding made sense because the current financial year’s spending would have crystallised and it would be easier to gauge the respective health of the navigation and national park accounts.

John Sharpe raised concerns about the principle of national park grant cash being used for dredging because he said under the terms of the Broads Act that should only happen if there was a clear benefit to conservation. Earlier in the meeting, authority members agreed to the new method of apportioning costs that will place a much greater burden on toll payers.

Mr Mallett said government cuts had necessitated a significant increase in the costs born by tollpayers. “This is not our wish – and we have come up with a number of significant reductions in our costs – but the remaining costs still have to be born,” he said.

Authority chairman Stephen Johnson highlighted the fact that they had cut shared costs by nearly £400,000.

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