Coun­cil re­ported to Gov­ern­ment over fi­nances

The Wokingham Paper - - FRONT PAGE - By PHIL CREIGHTON news@wok­ing­ham­pa­

THE COUN­CIL’S fi­nan­cial pic­ture has con­cerned the leader of the Lib­eral Democrats so much that he has writ­ten to the Sec­re­tary of State for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment.

At last Thurs­day’s coun­cil meet­ing Cllr Lind­say Fer­ris told the cham­ber: “We can see the level of fore­cast debt in­creas­ing from £273 mil­lion to £450 mil­lion this fi­nan­cial year to near £600 mil­lion next year.

“This means there will be in­creas­ing pres­sure on the coun­cil to pro­vide its ba­sic ser­vices such as waste col­lec­tion, high­ways and the like. At some point we feel this pres­sure will be­come too large for the coun­cil to de­liver these and other ser­vices.

“At the mo­ment we have no ex­ec­u­tive or deputy ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber for fi­nance as both these mem­bers re­signed these past weeks.

“Who is in charge of our fi­nances?” he asked, adding that his let­ter to James Bro­ken­shire MP, Sec­re­tary of State for Hous­ing, Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment, was to “for­mally ad­vise him in our con­cerns about how the coun­cil is cur­rently be­ing man­aged, with its in­creas­ing lev­els of bor­row­ing and with­out a clear di­rec­tion to deal with these prob­lems.

“We are ex­tremely wor­ried the di­rec­tion this Con­ser­va­tive ad­min­is­tra­tion is tak­ing us.

Cllr Fer­ris added: “The coun­cil is now be­hav­ing like some­one who has a num­ber of credit cards and spends up to the limit on each of these cards.

“The limit is then in­creased again and again so that the level of au­tho­rised spend­ing (or debt) keeps in­creas­ing year-on-year. This is un­sus­tain­able and will surely end in tears.”

Af­ter the meet­ing, he told The Wok­ing­ham Pa­per that the party felt it was dif­fi­cult to full un­der­stand the coun­cil’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion be­cause “you have you plough through one doc­u­ment to an­other to un­der­stand the fi­nances. It shouldn’t be the case”.

“As I said in coun­cil, the way in which the coun­cil is spend­ing money is like it’s max­ing out the credit cards, but the coun­cil has over­all con­trol over what the max­i­mum should be. It’s ex­ceed­ingly con­cern­ing.

“There’s an in­di­ca­tion that we’re on a slip­pery slope here. It’s not in a hunky dory po­si­tion: for our re­serves to be halved in such as short space of time is un­be­liev­able.

“We also have the neg­a­tive sup­port grant on the hori­zon.”

But the leader of the coun­cil de­fended the coun­cil’s fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and the way in which the Con­ser­va­tive Ex­ec­u­tive is man­ag­ing the fi­nances.

It is cur­rently with­out an Ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber for fi­nance af­ter Cllr Ju­lian McGhee-Sum­ner re­signed at the begin­ning of the month. No re­place­ment has yet been an­nounced for him.

Cllr Char­lotte Haitham Tay­lor told The Wok­ing­ham Pa­per: “This is a dif­fi­cult time for lo­cal coun­cils across the coun­try, but thanks to Con­ser­va­tive man­age­ment, Wok­ing­ham Bor­ough has weath­ered it bet­ter than most.

“We be­lieve that it is im­por­tant to in­vest in in­fra­struc­ture such as roads, schools and leisure cen­tres to serve the grow­ing pop­u­la­tion in the Bor­ough.

“In or­der to pro­vide fa­cil­i­ties in ad­vance of the hous­ing de­vel­op­ment we have been tar­geted to pro­vide by Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment, we bor­row money from the Gov­ern­ment at very low in­ter­est rates, this is then paid back from con­tri­bu­tions from hous­ing de­vel­op­ers and our in­come-gen­er­at­ing as­sets.

“The level of bor­row­ing is a nat­u­ral re­sult of the level of de­vel­op­ment in the Bor­ough, and our in­come gen­er­a­tion will help pay for lo­cal ser­vices.

“Un­like our neigh­bour­ing coun­cils, we are build­ing and open­ing more fa­cil­i­ties for our res­i­dents, rather than cut­ting them.

“If the Lib­eral Democrats are say­ing that they wouldn’t bor­row money at the safe lev­els that we are do­ing, they need to an­swer how else they would in­vest in re­sources and fa­cil­i­ties that ben­e­fit lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

“The Op­po­si­tion could cut ex­pen­di­ture on ser­vices or choose not to in­vest in com­mu­ni­ties, leav­ing lo­cal peo­ple with fa­cil­i­ties and as­sets that will de­te­ri­o­rate and po­ten­tially need to close – as wit­nessed by the lack of in­vest­ment by them in the Bul­mer­she Leisure Cen­tre in Wood­ley when they ran the Town Coun­cil.

“Lo­cal res­i­dents should be in no doubt what a Lib­eral Demo­crat-run Coun­cil could po­ten­tially mean: crum­bling, dan­ger­ous sports cen­tres as they fail to in­vest in leisure fa­cil­i­ties over­crowded class­rooms as they fail to in­vest in new schools; and roads jammed with traf­fic as they fail to in­vest in high­ways.”

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