A COUNCILLOR has hit out after discovering taxpayers have been footing most of travellers’ electricity bills at three sites in York.

Figures obtained by Independent councillor Mark Warters revealed City of York Council spent a total of £195,085 on power supplies in 2010/11 at the sites in Clifton, Osbaldwick and James Street.

The amount compared to a budgeted figure of £102,260, and the council received an income of only £8,362 from electricity cards bought by travellers to offset the cost, meaning an overspend by the authority.

Coun Warters, who represents Osbaldwick, said he was “incredulous” that while many taxpayers were struggling to cope with soaring electricity prices they were also paying power bills for travellers.

The council said it had long paid part of the travellers’ electricity bills, but revealed this was no longer happening following recent changes.

Steve Waddington, the authority’s assistant director of housing and public protection, said when the sites were first built, it was common practice nationally to install single electricity supplies, because power companies did not want to provide individual supplies to each pitch.

Landlords – in this case City of York Council – charged the cost of any electricity used and some, but not all, of the costs were recovered from the travellers through cards or tokens to use supplies.

“The council recognised that this was not a suitable long-term solution and earlier this year, individual electric meter systems were installed in all three traveller sites in York,” he said.

“The travellers now have individual meters and are billed direct by the electricity companies and the council are not charged anything.”

He said the change had come about partly because, as things stood, travellers had been unable to switch suppliers and obtain discounted prices.

A report to councillors said the overspend had been offset by “underspends on temporary accommodation costs and staffing savings across the service area”.

Coun Warters said he was concerned this might mean staff had lost their jobs so the council could pay the electricity bills, but the council said that had not happened.

Christine Shepherd, of York Travellers Trust, said travellers’ sites had historically paid commercial rates and said it was right local authorities had changed that. She said it was also right that councils had brought in a meter system instead, which was fairer.

She said: “That’s how it should be.”