Taxpayers are set to foot a “monumental” bill after bungling council staff lost cash payments totalling more than £70,000.
Redditch Borough Council has admitted it had lost “signed lease agreements” and “reliable accounts and records of payment” from 13 market traders dating back as far as 2003.
A total of £44,500 will be written off as “irrecoverable” and a further £26,500 “should not be pursued”.
The local authority, which earlier this year revealed plans to save £1 million before 2012, only realised its error last year when the Conservatives took control from Labour.
In a desperate attempt to recover the money it tried to get in touch with the market traders but only a handful responded.
Three did not reply at all, two letters were returned and one claimed to have passed the debt on to another stall-holder. The remaining traders who agreed to speak to inspectors claimed that they had paid the money they owed in cash but never received a receipt.
The local authority has been attacked for its “unacceptable” mismanagement as it emerged it could not take legal action against its debtors because it had lost the necessary paperwork.
A spokeswoman for the Taxpayers Alliance said: “This is a prime example of how ineptitude in local government is costing taxpayers dear.
“Taxpayers will feel aggrieved that they will have to help make up this shortfall.
“At a time when families are counting every penny, £70,000 will be considered a monumental sum to write-off.
“It’s entirely unacceptable that thousands of pounds have been lost directly from the public purse, especially at this small authority.”
A spokesman for the council said it had now sacked a number of staff responsible for the blunder with at least one being prosecuted by police in connection with the lost cash.
Former Redditch market manager Nick Watkins, aged 60, from Bidford-on-Avon, was last year sentenced to 150 hours of community service after he pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft.
A spokesman for Redditch Borough Council said: “It is deeply regrettable, particularly in the current economic climate, that the council is being asked to consider writing off a considerable amount of income.
“A comprehensive review and risk assessment has been undertaken of all other service areas within the council where local billing and cash payments are received.
“This is to ensure positive, sound and effective measures and controls are in place.”
Councillor Carole Gandy, leader of the council for the Conservatives, added: “I was made aware of the situation upon taking control of the council in May 2008 and was extremely concerned by what had happened.”