Hunstanton town council faces rent payment halt questions
A town council has faced questions on whether its decision to halt rent payments during the coronavirus crisis was a suitable use of public money.
The issue was raised during a meeting of Hunstanton's town council on Thursday after Mike Ruston, the chairman of its finance committee, defended the decision to raise the amount it charges in council tax.
The meeting heard that total raised for town council services, known as the precept, increased by £20,000 this year, to £180,000.
Mr Ruston said the increase had originally been intended to fund increased activity in the town, including public events.
But he continued: "That increase will now have disappeared by the lack of hall hire in the town hall and the community centre and we’ve suspended rent payments.
"Arguably it’s a jolly good job we did put the precept up."
But borough councillor Paul Beal said he thought it was "strange" that the council was not collecting rent on a property next to the town hall, which is let out as a barber's shop.
He said the business would have been entitled to government grants to help meet its costs, adding: "I’m wondering if that is a proper use of public funds."
Town mayor Tony Bishopp said the issue would be re-examined, but argued the council had done the right thing.
He said: "I think we did as a council agree to this and it does help a local business.
"If more private landlords did the same with their tenants businesses wouldn’t be moaning quite as much about how they’re going to continue."
But Mr Beal responded: "The grant is for their business. There are other grants available which the tenant could claim. This is an opportunity where the government gave money to help tenants and councils."
Millions of pounds worth of government support was distributed to businesses in West Norfolk during the lockdown period.