Monday, 28 July 2014

More policy announced on the hoof with the risk of more borrowing

Clearly I am missing something obvious. In today’s Echo we have a front page announcement that Southend Council is considering buying the Royal Hotel after bailiffs were called in earlier this month. We have a nice picture of Leader Cllr Ron Woodley and Cllr Graham Longley standing in front of the building with Cllr Woodley quoted as saying “We’re not an Administration that will sit back and we are here to facilitate opportunities if they come up…Anything we do would have to be worthwhile financially in the long term and give us income.” The article also suggests a possible price of £1.1 to acquire the site before any renovation or improvements have been funded. Putting aside that it seems a funny way to conduct negotiations in the commercial world via the local press and hardly enhances the Council’s negotiating position, I would expect these words to be credited to Tory Leader John Lamb. For the last few years Cllr Woodley has run a constant argument that council borrowing was too high and out of control with the implication that if he was in charge it would be brought under control. Yet now he is in power we have heard nothing about reducing borrowing and indeed he seems happy to announce policy decisions on the hoof on issues like this, or the possibility of building new council homes, which would increase borrowing. Now if I was in charge the idea of buying the Royal Hotel if the price was right would have been considered, particularly if it had the chance of delivering a future income stream, however I would have wanted to approach any negotiations with rather more commercial savvy and if the scheme had proceeded no doubt Cllr Woodley and his colleagues would have been the first to moan about increased borrowing. He has either got to admit that he got it wrong and that increased borrowing if focussed (like under the previous Administration) is to be welcomed, or that his position on increasing borrowing is unchanged but he is happy to break his own rule when there is the chance of a nice newspaper headline.

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