Call to strengthen parish council training after Blakeney woman jailed for stealing from five Norfolk councils and Royal British Legion

All town and parish councillors should receive 'mandatory' financial training to head off a repeat of two Norfolk fraud cases, it has been claimed.

And smaller councils should join together to form 'community clusters' to give them the skills to take on the extra responsibilities expected under the coming localism bill.

Tony Nash, chairman of Norfolk Association of Local Councils (NALC), made the suggestions in the wake of the jailing of parish council treasurer Patricia Temple-Crowe, who stole more than �72,500 from five councils and a charity.

The case followed the jailing last month of former council clerk Beverley Boughen, who stole more than �60,000 from four parish councils and a local charity.

Mr Nash said: 'Councillors have a duty of care as far as spending of public money is concerned. There are governance issues that are not being addressed. It's the councillors' responsibility to ensure accounts are dealt with properly.

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'That's not happening, and that's why these situations were allowed to take place. I would like to see mandatory training for councillors. It's vitally important.

'If there's no training, how are councillors expected to understand the role? It's not good enough. We trust the clerks to get us in the right way and deal with things properly. But we shouldn't rely on that trust.'

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The government is expected shortly to introduce a localism bill, giving parishes and towns the right to take over some duties that are in the hands of districts and the county council.

There are concerns that, in the wake of the two fraud cases, councils might not be financially robust enough to handle the extra responsibilities.

Mr Nash said: 'When this localism bill gets up and running, it is likely that parishes will be able to undertake grass cutting or road sweeping. We are urging councils to think of clustering together to achieve what larger councils can achieve.'

Temple-Crowe, 58, of High Street, Blakeney, who was jailed for 18 months at Norwich Crown Court on Monday, stole from Cley, Morston, Stiffkey, Wiveton and Langham parish councils, and from the Royal British Legion.

This week, the councils were still coming to terms with the 'breach of trust'.

John Wise, chairman of Morston Parish Council, which was defrauded of �26,943, said: 'We were very disappointed with her actions because she is a Morston girl born and bred.

'She called an extraordinary general meeting and her sister read a statement out to say what had happened. We couldn't believe it when we heard it.

'But we've recovered from it and there are now more checks and balances. We've all done extra training and have a better grasp of the situation. I can't see it happening again.'

Richard Kelham, chairman of Cley Parish Council, which lost �23,884, said: 'When we first found out we were gobsmacked. But the NALC got us in touch with Di Dann, who is now our clerk, and we are flying again.

'We've had extra training and have extra things in place to stop it from happening again.'

Boughen, 42, of Manor Road, Dersingham, admitted stealing from Ringstead, Marshland St James, Burnham Market and Snettisham parish councils and the Heacham and District Community Car Scheme between 2008 and 2010. On June 30, she was jailed for 18 months.

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