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Taxpayer-funded council magazine attacked as 'misleading' by UKIP
A taxpayer-funded council magazine distributed to homes in Watford has been attacked as "misleading" and an "advert" for the ruling Liberal Democrats.
Phil Cox, the UK Independence Party candidate in the May mayoral elections, accused the Look Back magazine of lauding political decisions that help the re-election bid of the current mayor, Dorothy Thornhill.
Mayor Thornhill agreed the magazine was an advert for the ruling Lib Dems but rejected Mr Cox’s criticism as "specious".
She said the council was not a neutral organisation but run by a political party and it was important residents were informed about how their money was being spent.
The dispute centres round the Look Back magazine, which Watford Council publishes once a year. This year’s edition came through residents’ front doors in recent weeks.
The publication includes an introduction penned by Mayor Thornhill, who is seeking her fourth term in charge of town hall, saying "I believe this council spends your money wisely".
She also highlights what she sees at the council’s achievements.
The rest of the magazine covers how much council services cost residents and also changes to areas such as recycling and Watford Market.
Mr Cox described the leaflet as "blatantly political" literature published at taxpayers’ expense in the run up to the local and mayoral elections on May 22.
He said: "The council is producing a political leaflet and it is going to every house in the borough.
"If you take the front page, it is about ‘keeping Council Tax on track’. That is an electoral thing, not a council thing. It is a political decision.
"Then it says we have improved recycling. That’s not the council that is the Lib Dems. It’s an advert for the Lib Dems.
"I think this council has been Lib Dem for so long they have gone native. I think the council is in cahoots with the Lib Dems and should be above politics."
Responding to the criticism, Mayor Thornhill said: "Of course it is a Lib Dem advert. The town is run by a mayor and the mayor is a Lib Dem. It would be the same if it was a UKIP, Labour, or Tory mayor.
"People must know these things are a direct result of the mayor.
"The council is not neutral - it is run by a mayor. And whether it is a UKIP or a Tory, residents deserve to know how they money is being spent. Most councils do this and it is deemed good practice. If people don’t like it they can vote against it. For me this whole argument is specious. It is about democracy."
Mr Cox also criticised the mayor’s introduction to Looking Back as "misleading" as it said that residents pay "£4 to £6 a week" to Watford Council, depending on the band.
He pointed out that the highest band paid more than £9 a week and added: "It is deliberately misleading every household in Watford."
This week Watford Borough Council issued a statement saying: "We have checked the figures in the document and it is indeed the case that the overwhelming majority of households pay £4 to £6 a week in Council Tax to Watford Borough Council and this was intended as an general statement.
"While a small proportion of higher band properties will pay over £6, a greater number pay even less than the £4 a week stated.
"We would also like to point out that this does not affect residents' bills and the fact that the amount they pay to Watford Borough Council has remained the same for the past three years."
The council added: "We take the utmost care to ensure that everything we produce complies with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity and our Annual Report, Look Back, is no exception.
"We have a responsibility to inform residents and council taxpayers about what the Council has been doing with the money it receives from them.
"While all council officers are politically neutral, we are run by a Liberal Democrat administration with a Liberal Democrat Elected Mayor. Therefore, the policies of the council are bound to reflect their intentions."
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