‘Your Waverley’s’ EXTRAORDINARY EXECUTIVE went behind closed doors this week to decide whether to invest up to £10m in an out of town supermarket.
The controversial investment opposed by some in the Tory Opposition – has been prompted by the catastrophic effects of COVID-19, combined with year-on-year Tory Government cuts. In common with other cash-strapped local authorities, ‘Your Waverley’ is struggling to keep its head above water and protect services.
Council Leader John Ward apologised profusely to the public for excluding them from part of the debate made necessary by both the seller and tenant of the property in question. Both of whom had demanded absolute CONFIDENTIALITY. However, he would allow any comments or questions from any councillors to be heard in public.
Portfolio holder for Finance Mark Merryweather said the administration was doing everything in its power to keep Waverley sound and protect services against a background of continuing “maligned threats” from the Government. 95% of Waverley’s business rates were now syphoned off by the Government and Surrey County Council. This combined with the financial menace of the coronavirus was robbing councils of their ability to cope.
The investment for discussion and hopefully approval could bring the council closer to its strategic objective of investing in its own, or others property, thereby improving its finances. After expert advice from officers and independent financial experts, and in line with its property investment objectives, he saw no reasonable grounds to object to the investment.
- A Business Plan and Due Diligence was included in an Exempt Annex.
First off the grid was Cllr Steve Cosser who wanted his objections heard by the public, sacrificing his ability to speak in the EXEMPT session in the process. This was pre-ceded by a brief skirmish during which Cllr Ward told his colleagues they could either speak in open or exempt but not in both.
Cllr Cosser outlined his numerous concerns. He was surprised the Executive had considered spending £7m + £400,000 in fees to acquire a supermarket out of town? Even more, so that it came from internal borrowing. How could a council that was pleading poverty consider finding such a large sum of money – and how much more was buried in its accounts?
He argued the money could have been better spent on the investment in a new leisure centre, or perhaps a Community Hub for Cranleigh believing the residents of both Waverley and Cranleigh would think so too! **
He claimed the proposal was an abandonment of the council’s strategy to only invest in an “area of economic influence,”
However, this is the area of economic influence he referred too.
Dunsfold Cllr John Gray said the move shouldn’t be made unless it was a triple-A investment.
“This is more like the Icelandic Bank tale of the past” and claimed the investment finance would come from Waverley’s depleting coffers.
Cllr Peter Martin described the new Administration’s strategy as “risky.”He couldn’t understand why it was moving to investments outside the borough. But, was told suitable investments “did not grow on trees.”
** Cranleigh Cllr Liz Townsend exploded the myth that money used for investments could be used to provide – “other services.”
Does the Waverley Web presume this was a veiled reference to the previous remarks on – Cranleigh Leisure Centre?
She said, there was a BIG difference between the council’s use of Capital Funds or borrowing money today for the cost of providing ongoing services.
It was left to Godalming’s Cllr Paul Follows to spell out a few home truths to the faint-hearted Tories.
“Let’s remember why we are here? Because of the escalation via COVID on the structural financial issues impacting on local government; that exist solely because of central Government policy towards local government.”
He reminded the opposing voices that a vacancy existed on the Property Advisory Board. A Board on which Cllr Peter Martin sat until he resigned to take over chairman of an O & S committee. A seat that has remained vacant, ever since, despite repeated requests made to the opposition, because nobody wanted to fill it!
“So perhaps rather than appear here, without any evidence to back it up or give any actual examples of the many other places we could have invested in the borough, perhaps I could suggest that they join the Board and bring all these opportunities, they say exist in Waverley for its consideration?
He said he couldn’t help wondering if so many opportunities for direct investment within Waverley existed WHY investment opportunities already taken up in the past by other councils including neighbouring Rushmoor Borough Council and a council in The Wirral – hadn’t been taken up by the previous administration?
“Perhaps this has shown that the previous administration had been asleep at the tiller with its acquisitions over the past decade?”
After almost an hours debate behind closed doors. The Executive agreed the following.
Recommendation The PIAB recommend the Executive approve the purchase of the property identified in Exempt Annexe 1 within its delegation limit of £10 million subject to: 2.1 A bid of up to £6,955, 000 to acquire the freehold, subject to satisfactory completion of the further evaluation work and due diligence referred to in this report. 2.2 To delegate to the Strategic Director (Sec 151) and the Chief Executive, and Portfolio Holder for Finance, Assets and Commercial Services: i) The undertaking and signing off of the evaluation work and due diligence required as referred to in recommendation 2.1; ii) The decision not to submit a bid or to withdraw a bid if already submitted, in the event that the evaluation work and/or due diligence is not satisfactory; iii) The decision to accept a lower financial return (after internal borrowing costs) than required in Waverley’s investment criteria, if justified after evaluating the wider strategic and long term benefits of acquiring this site; iv) To finance the acquisition as set out in this report; v) To delegate the completion of legal matters and signing of appropriate contracts to the Strategic Director (Sec 151) and the Chief Executive, and Portfolio Holder for Finance, Assets and Commercial Services.
The Full report and details of the investment are included in the link below.