SIR Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has expressed major concerns over the Liberal Democrat budget proposals for Cotswold District Council.
The Cotswold MP and Cllr Richard Morgan, leader of the Conservative opposition group on the council are questioning if the level of planned borrowing is proportionate for the size and scale of the council.
However, Cotswold District Council leader Joe Harris (Lib Dems) has hit back at the pair stating that the Lib Dems will be rebuilding the council after the Conservatives left them with ‘a budget black hole’.
Cllr Harris said the new administration have plans to tackle the housing crisis, respond to the climate emergency and drive economic development adding “the Conservatives had 16 years to try and solve these issues and didn’t appear to do anything.”
The annual budget meeting is set to be held on Wednesday, with the new administration expected to raise council tax by 3.88 percent and also increase parking charges across the district.
In addition, the new administration is also expected to seek approval to borrow up to £30 million for social housing projects and a new commercial strategy which includes speculating on land and property and investing in green initiatives like solar farms.
Cllr Morgan said: “Gloucestershire County Council has a budget of £468 million, this budget is covering major services such as highways, education, social care for adults and children.
“In contrast Cotswold District Council with a net budget of about £12 million is far smaller and it has responsibilities for waste, leisure centres, and council owned car parks.
“When the Liberal Democrats took control of CDC in May 2019 they inherited cash reserves of £13.2 million, property investments of £7.5 million and financial market investments of £12.5 million.
“The council was debt free, had the 11th lowest district council tax in the country and was consistently under budget year on year. I think everybody will agree the council currently has strong financial foundations.”
Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown MP added: “I accept there is a local government spending review under way which could reduce the funding for local government in the future, but we don’t know the results of the review and funding could potentially increase, not decrease.
“The Liberal Democrat plans to borrow up to £30 million seems disproportionate considering CDC only has a net budget requirement of around £12.3 million each year.
“We also need to scrutinise their plans of how they intend to pay this debt back if interest rates go up at any point over the next 20 or 30 years.”
In response Cllr Harris said: “I’m intrigued that both Geoffrey Clinton-Brown and Cllr Morgan haven’t expressed their concern more recently on the occasions that I’ve seen them, they’ve had the opportunity but said nothing to my face.
“The Lib Dems are rebuilding Cotswold District Council Council after the Conservatives left us with a budget black hole, their financial strategy that we inherited assumed £4million worth of savings over the next four years with no supporting income increases or cost reductions. A very shaky foundation and we’ll have to make some tough decisions but won’t waver in doing so.
“We’ve got ambitious plans to tackle the housing crisis in our area by delivering genuinely affordable homes, we’re taking the lead on responding the climate emergency and we’re going to be driving economic development.
“The Conservatives had 16 years to try and solve these issues and didn’t appear to do anything.
“For the past 20 years the council has been able to invest without borrowing due to the large amount of money received from the transfer of social housing to a housing association, these funds have now been exhausted so any administration would have had to look at options for borrowing.
“Any borrowing we eventually decide to undertake will be underpinned by a strong business case that provides a revenue return for the council.
“I think what the public want to see is their politicians working together, my door is always open if the MP or Leader of the Conservatives want to raise anything with me in person.”