Ashfield District Council reassures residents that 'finances are in very good order'

The authority has hit back at Ashfield MP’s claims it is facing ‘disastrous’ debt issues nearing £100million.

By Lucy Roberts
Friday, 21st January 2022, 1:07 pm
Ashfield District Council headquarters.
Ashfield District Council headquarters.

Since 2018, the Ashfield Independents-led council has invested in a large property portfolio, which, MP Lee Anderson suggests, has backfired by racking up huge debt and incurring interest charges.

Purchases have included industrial units in Falkirk, Wishaw, Grangemouth and Atherstone, along with a hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon.

The MP said he is worried about the impact the debt will have on residents.

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Mr Anderson said: “This is an appalling waste of council taxpayers’ money. Make no mistake – there needs to be a plan in place and fast. The council needs to get a grip of this debt.

“I am calling on the council leader and officers to explain how this has happened and what plan is in place to resolve this disastrous mess.”

He alleges the council is paying the debt back from the revenue account, funded by council tax, at a rate of more than 20 per cent this financial year and 33 per cent for the following two years.

In those years, he says, only 66p of every £1 paid to the authority goes on services and the remaining goes to pay off debt.

Mr Anderson is now seeking reassurance that the £70m Towns Fund and Future High Streets funding he helped to secure to improve the district will not also be used to pay off the council’s debt.

He has offered to meet with senior officials at the council to help them tackle the issue.

But councillor David Martin, cabinet member for finance at Ashfield District Council, has hit out at the MP for criticising “something he clearly does not understand”.

He said: “The council does have a large portfolio of investment property but the income generated from these assets significantly exceeds the debt and interest costs.

“Indeed the significant profits generated have assisted the council to retain some services other councils have had to cut, and in recent years, have assisted us to freeze the council tax, quite the opposite of what the MP alleges.

“Our residents and MP should be assured that the council’s finances are in very good order.”

Coun Martin went on to say that further reassurance of the health of the authority’s finances has been confirmed by the Local Government Association.

He said: “As recent as December 2021, an independent financial health check by the Local Government Association (LGA) was commissioned by the newly-appointed chief executive and the report produced confirmed, as expected, that the council is ‘is well managed financially, savings delivery has a high success rate and its reserves as a proportion of NET expenditure is within benchmark with CIPFA nearest neighbours’.”

As such, the council has ‘politely declined’ the MP’s offer of help to sort out their finances.

Coun Martin added: “His offer of input into something he clearly does not understand is politely declined.

“Residents should also be assured that the £70m Towns Fund and Future High Streets fund successfully bidded for by this council will also be managed within the robust governance arrangements stipulated by Government.”

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