Will Forster

Campaigning to be the Lib Dem MP for Woking, Deputy Leader of Woking Borough Council and Councillor in South Woking Learn more

Read more on this

Read more on this

Read more on this

Read more on this

Read more on this

Read more on this

Lib Dems slam debt letter left behind by outgoing Conservatives

by willforster on 17 May, 2022

The Lib Dems and I have condemned the complacency of outgoing Conservatives and pledged to work constructively with Central Government for answers, following the unearthing of a letter dated last week and addressed to the outgoing Leader of Woking Borough Council.

The newly-emerged letter, signed by a senior Minister, outlines Government concerns about “instances of excessive risk” due to “disproportionate levels of debt” and “pursuing novel and risky investments”.  The letter also makes explicit – exactly as raised by the Lib Dems in opposition and exactly as denied by the local Tories – concerns that this behaviour does indeed mean “putting taxpayers’ money at risk”.

This follows increasing concerns by Government departments about the affordability of the country’s most indebted local authorities, and in particular Woking Borough Council which leads this dubious list of Council debt per household.  This situation is underlined in the newly-unearthed letter, with the Borough Council confirmed by a Minister of State as having “the highest level of commercial debt (relative to its size) of any authority”.

The newly-emerged letter also confirms that due to the past actions of the outgoing Tory administration, Woking Borough Council is likely to come under the scope of new powers proposed by the Government to reduce financial risks.  To reduce the threat of any direct intervention, the Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities has requested further information about the affordability of borrowing agreed by the Conservative administration.

This letter is both a shocking revelation and a long-overdue confirmation of what local people already suspected – Woking Tories were taking excessive risks with the financial future of residents.

For many years, my Lib Dem colleagues and I have been asking questions on the sustainability of the Council’s borrowing.  Conservative Councillors have been spreading complacency for nearly as long.

Ambition for Woking is to be applauded, but it has become clear that the previous administration swapped ambition for self-admiration many years ago.  Likewise, extraordinary levels of debt would be far less problematic if they were backed by extraordinary assets – yet Lib Dem Councillors have already revealed this is not the case.

Directors of many Council-owned companies valued properties and other major assets themselves, far from independent.  Many investment cashflows appear to be funded only by extra debt every year, far from affordable.

All this means that, indirectly, even core Council services have been left increasingly dependent on new borrowing.  Woking’s debt will take many decades to peak, but local residents can be reassured that this Borough has now at least traversed the worst trough of Tory complacency.

It would be just as irresponsible to promise overnight solutions to these immense challenges, but we will take on the gradual challenge of major change.  We will work tirelessly and constructively for financial answers.  The new Lib Dem Executive will also work hard to constructively engage with partners such as Central Government departments, in particular around our shared concerns, now confirmed in this letter.

We were slurred as ‘scaremongers’ just for demanding affordable finances.  Now it is clear: if Tory Councillors want to keep branding sensible financial questions ‘scare mongering’ they need to call their own Ministers scaremongers too!

The Conservatives have left an awful legacy for the incoming Lib Dem administration and future generations of Woking residents.  In stark contrast, Lib Dems are already tackling these issues locally, and dedicated to working constructively with Government and a range of suitable financial experts to eventually deliver a sustainable local budget.

   Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>