THE Tax Payer’s Alliance has publicly criticised a council for paying over the odds to buy a home accommodating looked after children and allowing the entire scheme to go over budget.

But Stockton Borough Council has rebutted the online criticism, saying the suggestion that the authority was being “cavalier” with taxpayers’ money was “frankly ridiculous.”

Stockton council has been criticised for buying homes to house looked-after children who are currently sent elsewhere.

Neighbours to the three houses already bought at Thorpe Thewles, Stillington and Hartburn are worried the children will cause anti-social behaviour, despite Stockton council explaining the children are not criminals.

Spark of Genius has been contracted by Stockton council to eventually open four homes for 20 children at an original cost of £2.3m - although that figure has gone up to £2.75m.

The soon to re-open King Edwin School in Norton, Stockton, will accommodate all 20 children. Stockton council currently spends about £3.5m a year on children with complex issues and originally hoped to save about £400,000 a year by bringing them home, although that figure has been revised upwards to £600,000. About 100 jobs will be created.

However, the authority was strongly criticised in the Tax Payers Alliance’s (TPA) grassroots blog by Jennifer Salisbury-Jones.

The online article on the powerful lobby group’s website said the council paid £50,000 over the £350,000 asking price to buy the Old Vicarage building in Stillington.

The TPA also argued the council could have got a better price than the £600,000 it paid for a property on Darlington Road, Hartburn as it had been on the market for two years and needed extensive renovation.

It has already reported that there is to be a £450,000 overspend on the project. That was also picked up on in the TPA blog which claimed the overspend had been dismissed as “small” in a meeting between residents and leading council members.

The blog said: “The cavalier attitude towards taxpayers’ money is clearly concerning. While the aims of the project are praiseworthy, there is certainly more that they could do to ensure our money is not being wasted.”

Cllr Ann McCoy, Stockton Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “It is frankly ridiculous to say we are being careless with taxpayers’ money when we are talking about a project that will generate significant savings and more importantly, enable us to give our looked after children a better start in life.

“What would be careless would be to continue spending millions of pounds every year accommodating looked after children in placements as far afield as Nottingham and Cumbria when we have this wonderful opportunity to care for them here in Stockton and to improve their life chances in the process.”