Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Stagnation-on-Sea - An Independent Vision

I have commented previously on the scaremongering and misinformation being undertaken by some Independent Party councillors on the issue of council borrowing. My budget speech (printed in an earlier blog) sets out the principles underlying our approach to borrowing and the true cost to council tax payers. During the budget debate I challenged Cllrs Terry and Woodley to identify those capital projects funded in whole or in part by borrowing that they would not have undertaken if they had been in control and the resulting saving in interest. This reflects the obvious reality that you cannot attack borrowing without also objecting to the projects which it has funded. Well Cllr Terry managed to come up with 3 namely the Warrior Square café, the lifeline sculpture previously at the top of Pier Hill and the proposed dualling of Priory Crescent. That was it. He didn't mention how much interest that would have saved but I assume he thought that these projects represented 3 killer blows on the subject. Warrior Square café was an integral element of the improvement works carried out to Warrior Square and were managed by Renaissance Southend and mostly funded by the Homes and Community Agency (HCA) rather than by the Council whether from borrowing or otherwise. For reasons best known to them the HCA wanted a café and without the café the funding would have not materialised. In my view the work to the scheme was worth the frustration of the café. The Pier Hill artwork was funded by the Arts Council and the Priory Crescent Work, which before the complication of the Saxon King finds were supported by members across the chamber who wanted to improve access to the east of the town, was 90% funded by the Department for Transport. Councillor Woodley failed to respond but in an earlier Echo article had referred to the Pier Head works and the Forum Library. We have spent just over £4M repairing the structure of the Pier and putting a new building on the end. Forget whether or not you like the design, any building would cost, the Indies would have left a structure which is greatly loved and cherished by residents and is an external symbol as to the wellbeing of the Town deteriorating and bare – we would hardly have seen Jamie Oliver there. As for the Forum we have borrowed £8M to attract £19M of external investment. The development of the library and the old nearly derelict Farringdon car park was a requirement of the external funding for the student accommodation and new pay on exit multi storey car park, which was important to Essex University’s move to the town. So not only would we not have a new state of the art joint use library with reduced and shared running costs, nor a new multi storey car park, nor student accommodation nor potentially the life and regeneration arising from our university campus but we would still have Farringdon car park and the derelict odeon site. In my view quite a return for £8M. Cllr Woodley says he would save the money and when he had accumulated enough he would fund capital projects. Come off it - it would never happen. So he would impose bigger than necessary revenue cuts and at the same time put the surplus in the Bank gaining no interest for some possible capital project in the future. It simply makes no sense especially with cheap borrowing being available through the Public Works Loan Board. So there we have it - our Conservative Administration which believes in sensible investment in our infrastructure and regeneration projects based on prudent, affordable and sustainable borrowing or the Independent aspiration to stagnation and decay.

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