Swindon Council’s Tory Cabinet for Finance has proposed at the Cabinet Meeting on Wednesday 7th December to be able to invest up to £50m of borrowed money on Council priority schemes without any accountability from the public, councillors or even members of his own Cabinet. This proposal is described as the Council’s “Commercial Investment Strategy”.
The proposal is for the Cabinet Member for Finance, together with senior council officers- the Chief Executive, Corporate Director for Resources, Corporate Director for Economy and Regeneration and Director of Law and Democratic Services- will be able to make spending decisions of up £10m for any one purchase of land, with a total budget of up to £50m.
The purpose of the investment strategy is to generate income for the Council and invest in land that might have economic development and regeneration potential.
This proposal will need formal approval from Full Council and if approved, would mean the Cabinet Member for Finance would be able to take financial decisions of up to £10m without any accountability from the public or councillors. The Cabinet Member would have a total budget of £50m to spend.
The Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Jim Grant, said:
“What is being proposed is for the Cabinet Member for Finance being able to spend up to £10m on any one of his political pet projects with zero scrutiny or accountability before making those decisions.
Given this administration’s past history on spending decisions for political pet projects, like with losing £500K on a failed Wi-Fi project and the wasted £1m for superfast Broadband in North Swindon, not to mention massive overspends on projects like the Bruce Street Bridges roundabout, who would trust this administration with spending decisions worth more than 10 times these failures?
It is undemocratic, opaque and against any accountability for how public money is spent. We don’t live in a dictatorship where only one person knows where the money is spent and I suggest what is being proposed is in practice not much different to that.
This administration has already racked up a debt of £100m which Swindon taxpayers are already having to foot the bill for. Now they could be increasing this debt by 50% by spending millions of pounds on their pet projects without any public scrutiny whatsoever.
The Labour Group will vote against these proposals should they come to Full Council and we would urge the Conservative Group to rethink these proposals. Public scrutiny of major council spending decisions make this council stronger, not weaker.”