Bankrupt Woking Borough Council is spending up to £148,000 a year on free charging for electric vehicles – about the same it would cost to save the “Bustler” community bus service.
The great electric give away at the Red Car Park in Victoria Square is happening, it emerged, because antiquated IT systems mean the council is powerless to charge people who use them.
It has led to calls for the electric vehicle charging stations to be switched off immediately in the hope the money could be used for community projects that are struggling with funding cuts as the council grapples with its near £2.6bn debt.
The shocking figure was uncovered during the Monday, November 20, Overview and Scrutiny Committee when officers were grilled on budget overspend over electricity costs for the Red Car Park in Victoria Place which “had not been budgeted for resulting in an estimated overspend of £148,000”.
Councillor Kevin Davis (CON, Heathlands) said: “What on earth is going on in that car park that’s racking up electricity charges of 148 grand?” He was told the money was going to the council-owned Thameswey account as part of its decentralised heat network – which ultimately provided power for electric vehicle charging points in the car park.
Officers told Cllr Davis they were aware the council was “not able to financially charge, sometimes we’re not (even) able to electrically charge” because the “back office systems that support the EV charging system are not in place”.
Cllr Leslie Rice (LD, Heathlands) said: “Somebody is getting free charging.” He added: “This has come out in a meeting. We talk about transparency and good management practices and we’ve turned over a new leaf, this doesn’t look like it. Someone from one side of the political divide picks up on something and it’s built on and built on and it’s not a good picture. It does not reflect well on council officers, this should be disclosed and it shouldn’t be dragged out this way in the meeting.”
It comes less than a month after the chief executive of Woking Community Transport warned of ‘dark days’ ahead after learning its service agreement was under threat as part of £11m of cuts the council must make to balance its budget.
The door-to-door community transport, known as the yellow Bustler service, helps take people with mobility issues to day centres in the borough.
The council, which declared itself bust in June, has to stop spending on all services not classified by the Government as essential.
Cllr Davis said: “ This is just a shocking example, and it’s been dragged out by accident, and now we have to come up with a solution. We should be looking at stopping people getting free electricity.”
Cllr Rice added: “£148,000, I think £150,000 is the Bustler grant that we’re talking about. There are so many different things we could do with £150,000.”