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Waveney: DWP will consider community

PUBLISHED: 10:13 01 April 2009 | UPDATED: 08:40 06 July 2010

THE government department ordering a district council to pay back nearly £9m has claimed it will consider the potentially-devastating impact on the local community before pushing ahead with its demands.

THE government department ordering a district council to pay back nearly £9m has claimed it will consider the potentially-devastating impact on the local community before pushing ahead with its demands.

The pledge came from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as it spoke publicly for the first time about the cash demand that has rocked Waveney District Council.

Waveney finance chiefs are battling to save frontline services and major projects after revealing a possible further repayment to the DWP of £900,000 and urgent repairs to Southwold harbour, costing up to £3.4m, could leave the council with a massive £13.2m headache.

The DWP says its demands relate to overpayments in benefits the council made to local people from 2004 to 2007, but the council insists the problem has arisen because of problems transferring data from paper to a new computer and has been given time to come up with new evidence.

A spokesman for the DWP said: “DWP has suspended recovery action in Waveney until the end of May. On receipt of Waveney's further evidence, the Secretary of State (James Purnell) will consider whether it is appropriate to reopen the claim in question and reconsider his recovery decision.

“DWP has a duty to ensure that local authorities administer taxpayers' money in line with the regulations. Failure to do this is taken seriously.

“However, local authorities are free to propose how they intend to repay amounts identified as overpaid subsidy and the department can take into consideration the wider financial impact on the local authority.”

The council's chief finance officer has already been legally forced to order a spending freeze until the authority's budget is balanced.

As well as putting pressure on frontline services, the cash crisis has also put the £52.7m Waveney Campus project under threat.

Council leader Mark Bee said last night: “As stated last week, we have assessed the overall risk to the council and laid out a 'worst-case scenario' but remain in dialogue with both the DWP and other government departments with the intention of reaching a swift and positive conclusion to this matter.

“Our priority is ensuring that there is no impact on essential frontline services and, given the devastating effect such a demand could have, it is reassuring that the department may take such factors into consideration.”

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