Romsey Town Council is at the heart of a gathering storm of public protest relating to alleged irregularities with the largely Lib Dem-controlled authority's finances and the restructuring of administration.

Even former Euro MP Roy Perry has stepped into the growing row. Mr Perry, now a Hampshire County Councillor, pointed out his interest in the controversy was prompted by Liberal Democrat electioneering literature claiming "excellent management" of the town's purse strings.

His comments came at Monday's special meeting called by town mayor Dorothy Baverstock following growing unrest at the way the authority's finances are being handled.

Some people, including three-times town mayor Pam Gale, have been demanding answers for months but have failed to get them.

Mrs Baverstock said the meeting was to deal with the council's finances for the year 2003 - 2004 and anyone who wanted information from previous years would have to contact the clerk. The mayor then told angry residents who had gathered to grill the authority about its finances, the accounts for the year 20042005 were not available yet and had to be audited.

Councillor Alan Marsh promised electors details about the latest accounts would be available at the annual parish assembly on May 26th.

He said the auditors were satisfied with the way the council's accounting had been done and offered copies of accounts - which the public can view free of charge - at a £1 a copy.

Mr Marsh explained that certain matters were confidential and on green paper and not for public disclosure.

Quoting from an external audit report by Roger Hill from the Audit Commission , Mr Marsh said: "On the basis of our review, in our opinion the information contained in the annual return is in accordance with the Audit Commission's requirements and no matters have come to our attention giving cause for concern that relevant legislation and regulatory requirement have not been met."

In response to queries about why the council's precept had jumped from £151,000 for the financial year 2003 - 4 to £171,000 in 2004 - 5 and was reduced to £155,000 this financial year, Mr Marsh said: "The former clerk was on extended sick leave and it was uncertain whether she'd return and income from the town hall was static."

Mr Marsh added the town hall was an important building and the £43,000 spent on running and maintaining it were justified.

Mr Perry said: "The finances of Romsey town were a matter for the townsfolk of Romsey and I would not normally take much interest. However, prior to the recent election the Lib Dems distributed leaflets outside the town in the rural area claiming that they were financial experts based on their good management of the town's finances. 'Lib Dems give good value for money' they claimed."

Mr Perry demanded to know why the town council's budgets (precepts) varied so much and he pointed out that unlike other parish authorities, Romsey did not have to cough up money for cemetery maintenance or play areas.

He said people had the right to know how much administration restructuring at the town hall cost. But members of the council refused to be drawn on the matter and were quick to point out much of the information could not be released because of "legal" restrictions.

Councillor Mark Cooper said residents were charged £13 each for services provided by the town council and besides looking after the town hall the authority funded the mayoralty and gave grants to various organisations including £6,000 towards the cost of providing the borough's Neighbourhood Wardens. The town council provides "extremely good" value said Mr Cooper.

Former town clerk Mrs Kate Bunce, who officially left her post more than a year ago, came under fire from Mr Cooper. Mr Cooper described the accounts "in a mess" at the time the highly-trained and long-serving clerk left.

Mrs Bunce who was at the meeting told Mr Cooper: "I strongly object to that."

Mrs Bunce grilled the council on a number of issues relating to discrepancies in the accounts.

She asked the mayor to confirm the date on which the accounts for 2003 - 4 were presented to full council for acceptance and signature prior to audit by the Audit Commission.

Turning to income from civil marriages in the accounts for the year 2003 - 4, Mrs Bunce said: "No income is shown on the accounts. There were definitely marriages in the year, so where is the income?" She added this should have been picked up by the auditor.

Mrs Bunce also asked the council to explain why some confidential financial information had been released to members of the public.

"I believe some of the expenditure listed in the 2003 - 4 accounts is, in fact, illegal."

Mrs Bunce who said that some of the expenditure was ultra vires - beyond the legal powers of the authority.

In response, Mr Marsh reminded her the auditor had approved the accounts. At one stage the mayor asked Mrs Bunce to put her sensitive questions in writing but Mrs Bunce declined stating she'd requested information a number of times but had no response.

Former Romsey mayor Pam Gale demanded to know more about the restructuring plans. "When was the decision taken by the council. There must have been a resolution on the restructuring. It would have been on the agenda of the full council but I have been unable to find a thing about it," said Mrs Gale. Mr Marsh replied it was "confidential" information and this was the reason why.

Romsey resident Clive Lewis said it was some form of "gagging" order because he'd asked about it and got nowhere.