Local politics, Politics

The mysterious case of Babergh’s £25 million borrowing splurge

£25m

(The below is taken from my report to Aldham Parish Council)

I’m a member of Babergh’s joint audit committee. This is usually, to be honest, pretty tedious stuff. However, at the last meeting we were asked to approve a £25m borrowing provision for next financial year for unspecified “capital investment opportunities”. Mid Suffolk had the same demand in their proposed budget.

I agreed strongly with some of my colleagues that there ought to be councillor approval of the business case for such a huge borrowing before it go ahead, by strategy committee and by full council. Babergh’s record on borrowing for projects (think Hadleigh Leisure Centre) is after all not brilliant.

Scrutiny committee also agreed with us on this.

However, strategy committee later amended the wording so that it alone will decide on the use of the £25m. At full council today (Tuesday 24 February)  I was ready to propose an amendment to let the council have the final say on how the £25m is invested. In the event, a Conservsative councillor – Frank Lawrenson – did so there was no need for me to. It was passed, strangely, unanimously, including by Jennie Jenkins, leader of the Conservatives who chair’s the very strategy committee that thought they alone should decide!

So I’m happy that Babergh has u-turned on this one. However, I still find it quite bizarre that officers were prepared to allow the council to borrow such a sum without proper scrutiny by elected members and also that strategy committee thought it was OK for them alone to decide.

Later in the meeting Cllr Brian Riley (Con – Hadleigh North) asked a pertinent question. Would any of the £25m be spent on the plans for a new “hub and spoke” office accommodation (with a hub in and around Ipswich and smaller satellite offices for the public in Hadleigh and Sudbury). The answer from Jennie Jenkins was basically that they had not decided.

It is hard to imagine the business case for borrowing money to build a new headquarters and satellite offices – where is the income stream?

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