A Wyre Forest Labour Party investigation today revealed the true cost of Tory austerity to Wyre Forest District Council.
Since 2010 the state of WFDC finances has deteriorated significantly. From a Council with assets of £62m and debts of £5.7m, it has managed to become a Council with assets of £46.5m and debts of a whopping £26m, not including its future pension liabilities of £57m. The Tories current plans target yet more borrowing, at £35m.
In that time, Wyre Forest District Council has seen its overall funding cut by 35% and lost £4.2m in business rates income, not to mention had to endure Central Govt funding cutsleading to a crisis in Tory Towers at Finepoint.
Labour Councillor Jamie Shaw said “The Council has an official black hole in its finances of £1.6m come 2021. It isproposing to use its reserves to plug that gap meaning it will pay £456,000 in 18/19, £758,000 in 19/20 and £788,000 in 20/21, and people will be quick to spot this is more than the officially declared £1.6m. None of the sum identified as efficiency savings for this year of £111,920 had been identified when Nigel Knowles and I met the Corporate Director, Resources, in June. This is all deeply concerning and the whole model they are operating under is unsustainable”.
Wyre Forest Labour Group Leader on the council Nigel Knowles said “It’s clear that the Tories are allowing Local Authorities to become a shadow of what they were when Labour was in Government. So many cuts to services, the increased debt, and the refusal to take on full responsibility to run Councils, be they County or District as major providers of services. The Tories give out contracts to the private sector,who end up being more expensive than in-house providers,and we all remember what happened to Carillion that collapsed without proper oversight and despite auditors saying everything was fine. Consequently, Tory Councillors are becoming less and less relevant when it comes to managing services. The Labour Party says we need an end to austerity. Let’s improve the living standards of local people because the Tories don’t care.”
Wyre Forest Labour Press officer Stephen Brown added “If this massive escalation of debt doesn’t concern residents of Wyre Forest who continually elect the Tories, locally and nationally, then it should. Another £3m of borrowing rests on getting their Depot 2020 (Green Street) up and running, all to save £50k per year at the Town Hall. This, just as we learn the proposed income from their plans which they claimed was needed to shore up council income, has taken a £30k a year hit because of flooding they didn’t ‘foresee’. Yet they intend to plough on regardless despite there being a massive clue about flooding in the road name ‘Pump Street’ which is on the site. The Tory Government has cut and cut and cut, and given over £400billion in tax giveaways to the top 1% and this is the direct consequence, Council’s in financial peril, taking chances with borrowing money and public assets to try and generate income, with local council taxpayers underwriting the risk.”
Labour believes that ‘IF’ the Council is going to borrow any money the priority should be for housing because that guarantees a return, it provides for a social need, and there is a desperate shortage of affordable housing in Wyre Forest. Commercial property speculation is just that, speculation, it can fall flat. The Tories also propose using this money to invest outside of the District and Labour believes this is not on, it should create opportunities for people and businesses in the District, not elsewhere because the Tories are desperate to shore up income.
Stephen Brown concluded by saying “We all remember the fiasco of Tory Towers at Finepoint, giving away a perfectly serviceable building in Stourport Civic for a vanity project, and which now seems to be simply an enterprise park as they plan to move remaining staff to what will likely become an ill-fated venture on Green Street. This is their mindset, they are wanton in wasting public money, and Tory national cuts mean the Tories could be compared to a low paid worker not earning enough to live on, running to pay day lenders to get through the next week, and getting deeper and deeper into trouble. They are incompetent and need to be held to account for the way they are ruining council finances. Apart from Tory Worcestershire County Council, which is in danger of becoming the next Northamptonshire type collapse, none of the other equivalent councils In Worcestershire have this level of debt, and I hope the electorate remember that come next May because local people are being taken for mugs by the Tories”