A council’s decision to splash £600 of taxpayers’ cash on a mayoral hat during the cost-of-living crisis has been branded “ridiculous”.
Hawkinge Town Council recently bought the high-end headgear after its previous mayor accidentally left a cheaper version in a car boot.
The current mayor Cllr Chris Johnson this week moved to defend the purchase – however, others, including his predecessor, have levelled sharp criticism over the spend.
Following a number of requests from KentOnline, the town council has refused to provide a photo of its new gold-braided bicorn hat.
“What staggers me, and I’m afraid these are the times we live in, is how the manufacturers can justify charging that sort of money,” former mayor Cllr Philip Martin said.
Previous deputy mayor Les Palliser added: “I just thought £609 for a hat was absolutely ridiculous, given the state of the economy.
“The people I know and talk to around here who are on benefits would love £609 to land in their bank accounts.”
“All of a sudden why do we want a 600-odd pound hat to replace one that you could have bought for £150?”
The council’s financial records show similar sums have recently been spent on benefitting the community with new signage, play equipment, grounds and pothole maintenance, alongside donations to 1st Hawkinge Brownies.
Mr Palliser argues the authority should have continued borrowing a hat from a nearby town council, or shopped around for a cheaper alternative so the money could be spent elsewhere.
Explaining the previous hat was a regular, cheaper version, he said: “All the mayors before have worn it – never a problem.
“And then all of a sudden why do we want a 600-odd pound hat to replace one that you could have bought for £150?
Official meeting minutes say the misplaced hat was not an official mayoral headpiece.
The papers say: “A mayoral hat has gold braid not black and costs considerably more to purchase. As the hat is an essential part of the civic regalia the decision was made to go ahead with the purchase.”
The authority’s payment schedule shows on August 11 a payment of £609 was made to Michaels Civic Robes for the bicorn hat.
It came after Cllr Martin lost the hat while on civic duty.
Recalling that day, the former mayor said: “I’d been to a function as mayor – I think the event was at Tenterden Town Hall.
“We don’t have a mayoral car.
“I’ve always got on extremely well with the [Folkestone] town council driver.
“On this occasion, because he was bringing the mayor of Folkestone he allowed me and my mayoress to travel with him.
“I’m almost sure that the mayoral hat was lost on that occasion.
“I checked and I double-checked with the driver and everything, and I’m sure that it was in the boot of the car.
“In fact, my mayoress at the time said she recalled seeing it there.”
Hawkinge, near Folkestone, was granted its own council in 2011, and its 8,500 residents elect the 13-member authority.
The mayor is elected by peers and the office requires the holder to occasionally don distinctive “civic regalia”, as in many other Kent towns.
The official fashion includes a gold mayoral chain, a robe, white gloves, and a distinctive bi-corn hat.
Both Mr Palliser and Cllr Martin claim the purchase was made without going before the council’s finance and governance committee.
However, Hawkinge Town Council says that under its rules any expenditure of less than £500 can be approved by both the clerk and the chairman.
The cost of the hat was below £500 before both VAT and shipping.
Cllr Johnson defended the expenditure as a necessary and normal purchase. He refused to comment further.