Green Party councillors are demanding an “end to the secrecy” around how taxpayer money is spent by the Suffolk Public Sector Leader (SPSL) Group, which they described as a “cosy leaders club”.
The SPSL Group, comprised of the leaders of the county’s local authorities and the Suffolk police and crime commissioner, has been criticised by Green county and district councillors for a lack of transparency in how and where it allocates funding, stating the public needed to have more say in how money from county business rates is spent.
But the group says Suffolk’s councils agreed to pool their business rates six years ago, arguing it has been recognised as forward-thinking in how it spends the money for the benefit of residents.
The debate around the SPSL Group re-emerged at the end of last year after the body committed funds – thought to be in the region of £500,000 – towards an outline business case for a proposed new bypass for Sudbury, a project which has divided opinion in the area.
Robert Lindsay, Green Party county councillor, said the group had acquired a pot of about £6 million, and has urged county council leader Colin Noble to make the organisation’s meetings open to the public.
Cllr Lindsay said: “This body, comprising the county’s eight local authority leaders and the police and crime commissioner is apparently making spending decisions on tax payers’ behalf, yet the first most elected councillors hear about it is when they read about it in the newspapers.
“It may be cosy, but running a secret club is a good way to destroy the reputation of the public sector.”
He also criticised the body’s decision to keep Jennie Jenkins as chairman, despite her resignation as leader of Babergh District Council in December.
In response, Cllr Jenkins, independent chairman of the SPSL Group, said: “Suffolk’s councils agreed, in public meetings in 2012, to pool the money that’s collected from businesses and for the SPSL Group to decide how a proportion of that is invested in projects to benefit the whole of Suffolk.
“This decision pre-dates Robert Lindsey’s time as a councillor, which might explain why he’s unaware.
“Suffolk is recognised for being very forward-thinking in pooling business rate income and using it to benefit the entire county.
“At the last meeting in January, we agreed to review how the group works to make sure we’re continuing to deliver results.”