A COUNCIL which is faced with having to save tens of millions of pounds from its budget has been criticised for spending £60,000 on a new audio system.

North Yorkshire County Council has come under fire from UKIP members for spending the money on a new system for its debating chamber after the previous one failed.

The council has spent £50,000 on equipment and a further £10,000 to install it.

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It comes at a time when the county council is facing stark choices over where to cut services as it attempts to make savings which overall amount to a third of its spending power.

It has already identified £94m of savings but is still faced with having to axe a further £74m.

The county council's large, pillared debating chamber in the Grade II listed building in Northallerton is more than 100 years old and its existing audio system, consisting of a number of microphones dotted around the benches where councillors sit, were finally beyond repair in February this year.

County councillor David Simister said: “I would rather have seen this money put to better uses such as investing in our schools, our roads and our social services.”

Cllr Sam Cross branded it a “waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“What might have made more sense – and would have cost a fraction of the price – was to get two or three roving microphones,” he said.

Carl Les, the authority's deputy leader, said about half the cost of the system was covered by a government grant to encourage public participation in local government. The new system should help the hard of hearing to listen to council proceedings.

“It is regrettable that we had to spend money on replacing the council chamber’s audio system, but the 35 year old system failed in February and could not be replaced,” he said.

“For years, members of the public as well as county council members have complained about the quality of the sound.

“This new digital system will enable the hard of hearing to participate fully in the debates and because the system is digital it can also help the profoundly hard of hearing to access council meetings.

“Also, a digital system will last longer, so we estimate the cost to work out at no more than £1,500 per year.

“Part of the cost was to do with installing the system sympathetically into a listed building, but about half of the cost was covered by Government grant as part of Westminster’s public participation agenda.”