A CASH-strapped Hampshire council has paid out more than half a million pounds of taxpayers’ cash to restore a First World War warship.

The county council approved £250,000 for a refit of the gunboat, known as HMS M33 Minerva, in this year’s budget while cutting public services, as previously reported.

But figures obtained by the Hampshire Chronicle reveal it had already spent £338,843 on the ship.

The bill included restoring the former rusting hulk, which the council bought for £11,000 in 1990, to her original 1915 external condition. New masts, anchors, and guns were made from scratch.

The Tory-controlled council spent £65,000 blasting and repainting the exterior of the Monitor gunboat which is berthed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard near Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory.

The coastal bombardment vessel is one of only two British First World War ships still surviving.

The latest refit is a joint project with the National Museum of the Royal Navy to mark the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign where the gunboat provided support for the landing of Allied forces in 1915-16.

But the sums spent have angered taxpayers and Liberal Democrat opposition councillors who have accused the council of “frittering away” public money.

It comes at a time when the council has made £100m savings over the past two years and axed 1,700 jobs.

Christine Melsom, leader of anti-council tax group IsitFair, stormed: “I think it is an absolute disgrace when councils spend money on fripperies. They say they are being squeezed yet they spend huge sums on things like this that have little or no benefit for local taxpayers.

“They have frittered the money away.”

Cllr Keith House, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat group on the county council, said: “With cuts still biting to libraries, buses and children’s centres, there are greater priorities for Hampshire’s cash.”

Some £102,523 was paid out in rent and business rates to berth the ship at Portsmouth dockyard over the past 23 years.

Other work included making the hull watertight, stabilising corrosion, high-tech rust removal and internal structural work. The ship is the largest artefact ni the county’s museum collection.

However the council refused a Freedom of Information request for a breakdown of costs, saying it doesn’t keep records for more the six years in line with national guidelines from the National Archives Council.

But council leader Roy Perry asked officers involved in the project to disclose the total cost of this work and they confirmed the figure was £160,000.

The council boss defended the expenditure, saying the “major and rare vessel” was part of Britain’s maritime history and a tourist attraction.

He said volunteers had carried out a significant amount of work and helped to keep costs down.

Cllr Perry said £1.8m is now being sought from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other sources to fully restore the vessel.

Once the revamp is complete, she will be handed over to the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

Cllr Perry added the £250,000 earmarked in this year’s budget for the ship had come from the sale of a former county council museum building in Portsmouth.

In 2010, the council gave £1m to the new Mary Rose Museum at Portsmouth Dockyard.