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Ashford Borough Council spent more than £70,000 on an office revamp, including leather sofas and Samsung TV

By Vicky Castle

White leather sofas, a 65-inch flat screen TV and the latest apple iMac computer are among additions to the Ashford Borough Council offices – a refurbishment that has cost taxpayers more than £70,000.

Following a Freedom of Information request submitted by the Kentish Express, it was discovered that the new office of council leader Gerry Clarkson cost nearly £7,000 alone.

The second-floor revamp at the Civic Centre in Tannery Lane also included a new office for council chief executive John Bunnett, a meeting room, a reception area and desk space for around 30 staff.

A 65 inch Samsung TV hangs on the wall of Gerry Clarkson's office
A 65 inch Samsung TV hangs on the wall of Gerry Clarkson's office

An itemised list shows the biggest expense was the carpentry, partitioning and decorating services, which amounted to nearly £15,000.

An opposition councillor has slammed the expense as frivolous and accused the authority of wasting money in hard times.

Cllr Brendan Chilton, ward member for Stanhope, and leader of Ashford Labour Party, said: "I am shocked at how much has been spent on the refurbishment of the office.

The revamp includes desk space for around 30 staff
The revamp includes desk space for around 30 staff

"At a time when budgets are being reduced, when cuts to services are having a devastating impact on communities, it seems very profligate and frivolous to be spending such large amounts of money on things like this.

"I would have preferred for the council to be more commercially minded and seek a client to rent the second floor out instead of spending £70,000 on a refurbishment which could have otherwise been spent on delivering council services, or mitigating the effects of the government’s welfare cuts."

Cllr Brendan Chilton
Cllr Brendan Chilton

But council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson said the revamp had used up wasted space and it was important that the council made a good impression.

He said: "When we are promoting Ashford as the place to invest, grow your business and create jobs, it is important we have the right environment to meet and talk to developers and investors and we set the right impression.

Ashford Council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson
Ashford Council leader Cllr Gerry Clarkson

"Now when we invite interested parties to meet the council, we can do so in a fitting and professional setting which clearly demonstrates that Ashford is an excellent location that is open for business.

"The changes will also make an improved working environment for staff, some of which have quite cramped desk space and will help us to make better use of the space available in other parts of the building in due course."

White leather sofas are seen in the reception area.
White leather sofas are seen in the reception area.

Renovation work on the second floor area, which has been empty since Kent County Council moved out of the building over a year ago, began in July and finished in August.

The total cost of the work was £70,433.14.

It was completed by a number of Kent-based companies, including Edmundson Electrical Ltd, from Ashford, Contour Interior Services, from Chatham, and Ashford Awnings.

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