A SENIOR Wyre Forest District councillor has slammed the Tory-run authority for having their “heads in the sand” for years over tackling the issue of unpaid business rates.

Labour group leader Nigel Knowles said he has been calling for the council to lobby Government for a change in law on business rates for the past few years and raised the issue again a council meeting in July.

Last week, the council announced it had written to Whitehall in the face of having to write off around £98,000 owed by Worldmile Services following an unsuccessful attempt to recover the money through the courts.

But Councillor Knowles said: “Our rate payers have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds because of two things. Firstly Government does nothing to stop this deliberate avoidance by some companies.

“Secondly, the local Tories put their heads in the sand for more than three years and refused to act on my demand for them to lobby their own Government to change the law.

“Staff have done their very best to collect unpaid business rates, but if companies avoid paying and run off elsewhere, it’s up to us to get back the missing money.

“To do this we need a change in the law. The local Tories watched the horse bolting for three years and finally tried to shut the stable door!”

Wyre Forest Labour Media Officer Stephen Brown added: “It’s clear that Wyre Forest Tories are so bereft of their own ideas that they are now trying to take the credit for Labour ones.

“Nigel Knowles has long campaigned on this issue. As recently as July, the Council were arguing with me about it too, complacently trying to minimise the issue by claiming the losses were small.

“How they’ve changed their tune now they’ve realised the true scale of the issue and the fact it runs into hundreds of thousands of pounds lost to their income streams.”

Following Labour’s criticism in July, the authority’s finance chief Councillor Nathan Desmond defended the efforts made to collect all business rates, saying they were forced to reluctantly write some off.

He added: “Companies that have gone bust don’t have magic money trees to pay their business rates or their other debts. I explained in the Cabinet meeting that the £153,000 is a small proportion of the £30m the council collects each year.”

But now he said the council will lobby for legislative change. The latest case will be discussed at Cabinet on November 13.