We wouldn’t suggest for one moment that you attempt to watch this – most enlightening – meeting of the Corporate Overview & Scrutiny Committee on the link below:
This cosy little get-together was almost inaudible , nobody was named, (no names – no pack-drill, as they used to say to us in the army), and the sound reception was awful. The only plus – web watchers were able to see the whole meeting which is more than can be said for most webcasts at Waverley Towers these days. Did they buy the new equipment on E-Bay? It has not gone unnoticed here at the Waverley Web that the committees set up to ensure backbenchers get a chance to apply the essential checks and balances that are required for good governance, were poked away in a committee room with no web casting throughout the summer. Thankfully, Incy Wincy hanging in the dark and dusty corners, was able listen in. Heaven help us when they start clening properly!
If ‘Your Waverley’ can’t sort out the basics, how is it going to set up an investment company which aspires to invest up to £250 million of our money! Still WW gives them ten out of ten for trying.
Or, is this another cunning plan to prevent us knowing what they know?
So forgive us, as we attempt here to pick out the bones of the latest Overview & Scrutiny meeting.
Firstly, for background: ‘Your Waverley’ decided in July to create a property company to invest ‘our money’ in residential and commercial property. OK so far? The rationale is to bridge the gap in the council’s deteriorating finances. If it doesn’t do something it will be £2.8m in the red in three years and then … bankrupt.
Chairman John Williamson said “the [committee] is picking over the bones whilst the animal is dying.. if we continue with what we are doing we are going to end up bankrupt” 1:57.20 in the clip above.
Many councils are well ahead of Waverley in playing the Casino game. Surrey County Council has invested £300/400 million on various ventures for a 1% return. Yippee – let’s all go down to Bet Fred with our winnings.
Now it isn’t our style to be meanies about the huge efforts made by our council to keep us in the black, because it is – quite simply – between a rock and a hard place.
Surrey and Waverley Councillor Peter Martin said Waverley is suffering similar problems to the county council: ‘At Surrey first we cut out the fat, then the muscle and now we are now down to the bone.’ “I have no magical ideas. – the situation we are in is shocking it appears Surrey’s the victim and it is quite preposterous – we have to put up council tax by 6% just to stand still or find more savings – it’s OUTRAGEOUS and we have told the Government – UP WITH THIS, WE WILL NOT PUT.’
Negative Rate Support Grant – Surrey MP and chancellor Phillip Hammond is not only scrapping the central government grant to councils – he is asking for cash back of £800,000 from Waverley. Whilst Peter Martin says Surrey has lobbied the Surrey Tory MPs who all say that’s terrible, they won’t do anything about it.
Well, how mean is that! Because, if they won’t listen to a true blue Tory – why would they listen to us!
However, we are slightly anxious after listening to the debate it appears our great white hope new investment company has :-
- Has no business plan.
- Wants to buy property nationwide in an uncertain market.
- Can only pay peanuts for non executive directors and hopes to rustle up a few local volunteers.
- Will have to shell out £25,000 to set up the company. Could that be gold-plated business cards for councillors?
- And… will be run by an Advisory Board on which the chosen few will sit and will decide where ‘our money’ is to be spent.
- And will rely on a third party property manager.
Nothing to worry about there then!
Jaws dropped when Councillor Nick Holder mentioned that Surrey County Council had invested THREE BILLION POUNDS IN PROPERTY AROUND THE COUNTRY, a figure that was quickly scotched by Waverley and SCC Councillor Peter Martin who said it was only between £3 – £400 million which was, currently producing an income of 1%. Phew!
Before appointing external specialists and external advisors, the Overview & Scrutiny Committee was asked to agree the way forward.
Councillor Peter Martin saw no reason for a Business Plan – as the most important thing was to just ‘borrow cheap to invest.’ Councillor Ged Hall suggested ‘if the right thing comes up, we’ll snap it up.’ Perhaps they should remember this banner headline.
Councillors John Gray, Stephen Mulliner and Mike Band, John Williamson were far more circumspect believing A business plan was essential and saying they had some ‘very real concerns’ about the current economic climate, suggesting investments should be mostly local, where local knowledge could prove invaluable.
Councillor Holder suggested others should follow the lead of Godalming Town Council and raise more income themselves. It had borrowed from the Public Works Board (what they themselves were suggesting earlier in Item 1 on the Agenda ) to fund the rebuilding and extension of the Wilfred Noyce Hall as they were making a profit out of it. When he started reeling off figures he was reminded by Chairman John Wilkinson ‘not to read out the legal bits as the meeting was being webcast.’ Worry not Councillor W – it was practically impossible to hear the illegal legal bits!!
‘When we switch over later I’ll come back to it said Solicitor Daniel Bainbridge’.
Perhaps the WW should mention that making a profit on the approximate £900,000 investment is not entirely true. Bearing in mind the low interest rates and increase in council tax, tax payers over time are expected to pay off the loan over 20 years.
Stephen Mulliner cautioned – everyone, that if the properties purchased remained empty, they would still have to pay council tax to someone and issued another warning about Waverley’s parlous state.
The Chairman said this was the biggest decision WBC would make for a decade, and it was essential both governance and all the necessary checks and balances were in place. The Committee agreed to tell its Executive it had not provided it with enough detail.