ANGER has been expressed at plans to increase Barnet Council's communication team budget by more than £450,000 - while other services face drastic cuts.

Signed off by the council’s interim chief operating officer Stephen Evans on Monday, the move sees six new employees brought on to “provide stronger accountability” and “manage the council’s reputation”.

The communication team’s baseline budget of £645,756 will be increased by £467,354 to help set up the new structure, putting final costs for the year at £1,113,110.

According to the report published for the proposals, the aim is to “continue putting residents, business and staff at the heart of communications, consistently embedding the Barnet identity, voice and values across the council”.

However, the announcement has sparked controversy as residents believe the money could have been better spent elsewhere.

John Dix, who blogs about Barnet under the name Mr Reasonable, said: “This is an entirely unnecessary additional cost. Having a communications department with 10 staff seems excessive already, but to add another six staff at this time seems entirely inappropriate.

“Library staff are being made redundant and my local library, East Barnet, turned into a volunteer only library open just 15 hours a week.

“The council should be there to deliver services to residents not spending money on spin.”

Leader of the council Richard Cornelius defended the plans, saying some of the roles would not be permanent and will not affect other services.

Cllr Cornelius said: “The council continues to embark on the significant programme of transformation needed to improve services, while spending £81 million less per year by 2020.

“During this time it is important that residents, businesses and key local partners are not only kept informed of what the council is doing, but involved and engaged.

“Many of these posts are temporary and the money to fund the restructure has been identified from existing budgets and will not affect the resources available for frontline services.”

But Labour group leader Barry Rawlings said the move showed the council's interests are not in the right place.

“It seems like they are more interested in covering their own backs than helping the people of Barnet," Cllr Rawlings said.

“We’ve obviously had a few bungles over the past few years, such as the mayoral vote madness, and this just shows the council are focused on rescuing their own reputation.

“I know a lot of people and groups campaigning in Barnet who will be angry at the decision to divert money away from services in need as the cuts keep coming.”