GAMES of political football over the future of a council-owned energy company have cost the taxpayer £554,000.
Portsmouth City Council-owned Victory Energy Supply Limited has been axed and revived twice by opposing councillors.
But in the meantime high-earning contractors at the public utility firm have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Negotiations are under way with a possible buyer, thought to be another council in England, and a Portsmouth council spokesman said any sale would have been jeopardised if the firm was cut to the bone.
Despite being originally stopped in August last year, the council has paid out:
:: £106,500 to the chief executive Daniel O’Hara.
:: £167,450 to five contractors.
:: £280,052 to 11 staff members including pension and national insurance.
:: £3,409 on expenses covering travel, hotels, and parking.
The figures cover from October - picking up from when The News revealed the chief executive was paid £270,000 for 17 months’ work - and up to the end of April. It means the council is still spending around £18,000 a week on staffing.
Mr O’Hara, a marketing director and interim chief financial officer remain as contractors at the firm.
There are nine employees: an operations director, operations manager, change and test manager, customer service advisor, sales director, telesales support manager, domestic advisor, telesales support advisor, and executive PA.
Victory’s post-axing afterlife has been sustained for months while the ruling Liberal Democrat councillors fought to scrap it but Conservative and Labour politicians wanted to keep it going to bring in cash.
Tory opposition group leader Donna Jones said: ‘The Liberal Democrat-run council in Portsmouth has had to carry on spending taxpayers’ money with nothing to show which is extremely disappointing when the reason for selling Victory Energy was the Lib Dem belief that it was too high a risk to spend £6m to achieve £2m a year income.
‘Instead this week they voted to spend in excess of £100m buying Lakeside to achieve £600,000 of income per year.’
Deputy council leader Councillor Steve Pitt, a Lib Dem, said the process was ‘very frustrating’ but hoped for a conclusion ‘in the coming weeks’.
He added: ‘From our perspective we definitely want the door closed on this as soon as possible. It can’t happen soon enough.’
A city council spokesman said that ‘staff costs (have been) continuously reducing to a skeleton level’ and added: ‘The value and saleability of the business depends on the strength of the senior management team, its core staff and the ability to deliver against its business plan. Without these people in place we would have little to sell.’