A local councillor has criticised Cornwall Council’s financial management, calling some of their decisions “unforgivable”.
Adrian Parsons, Cornwall Councillor for Altarnun and Stoke Climsland has spoken out against Cornwall Council’s spending, stating that the administration “continue to be reckless with our money.”
Cllr Parsons, who is a member of the Liberal Democrats, believes that in any other times, residents may be more forgiving of some of the council’s recent actions. However, with money as tight as it is “it’s about time they made good of their priorities and started delivering rather than making further cuts to the services.”
His criticisms were denied by the Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council, Cllr David Harris, who defended the current administration’s record.
Speaking to the Post, Cllr Parsons said: “For many locally, the high cost of living remains, with the addition of higher interest rates and ever rising rents adding further pressure to many businesses and households. It’s at times like this when we need our local authority to step up and deliver for those they represent.
“Their [Cornwall Council] desire to collect revenue is hitting so many across society, with the rise in car parking charges hammering our towns and high streets while even going to the beach is becoming a luxury due to the inflated parking prices, and every pound extra they take from our pockets, is likely a pound less that we spend when we go out.”
Cllr Parsons’ particular interest is of the recent news that Cornwall Council lent £20 million to Thurrock Council, who were recently declared effectively bankrupt.
“The administration at Cornwall Council continue to be reckless with our money,” he said. “Having recently lent £20 million to another local authority which is now under investigation due to its exceptional level of financial risk and debt. The government has appointed commissioners to take over Thurrock Council’s finances after concerns were raised about financial investments, it now appears they are effectively bankrupt.”
However, for Adrian, this is just the tip of the iceberg. “Furthermore,” he continued, “the long running saga of the holiday park, which was bought by Cornwall Council as accommodation for homeless families affected by the housing crisis, which 20 months later remains empty. They say works at the property have taken longer than expected! It’s incredible they can spend millions of pounds on a substandard holiday park for emergency accommodation and then just leave it empty.
“Without mentioning the £1 million paid earlier in the year to Virgin Orbit after the company used Spaceport Cornwall for its failed launch. Who pays someone else to use their facilities?”
Cllr Parsons admits that these financial failures have even been felt in his own area. “Just within our own town of Launceston, we have lost our day care centre, the leisure centre was cut adrift, to thankfully be saved by local people.
“Yet when Cornwall Council’s cabinet met last week to consider its draft budget proposals for 2024/25 set against a backdrop of continuing financial pressures, they tell us they need to make £29 million of savings for next year, with a further £45 million required by 2027-28. Under the draft proposals, council tax would rise by another 2.99% which in addition to the governments 2% levy for social care, would see a total increase of 4.99%”
With Cornwall’s vast nature and diverse landscape, areas are often left feeling that their needs are not being met or that they are not represented within Cornwall Council, with priority being given to other areas instead. Cllr Parsons said: “At this moment in time, more than ever, it feels that east Cornwall is missing out, with massive investment being proposed to be spent in and around Truro with £170 million for the Pydar Street re-development and much more put aside for the new Langarth Garden village. Money has also been found for the dualling improvements to the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross and the St Austell A30 link road. Whilst for those in the east, we have to pay more just to cross the Tamar bridge, an additional cost burden for so many to access Derriford, go to work or access other services in Plymouth! Many don’t set their aspirations for the council too high, but they do want a fair return for the council tax which they have to pay, which means getting the basics correct.”
However, Cllr David Harris, deputy leader for Cornwall Council believes that residents of the county do get value for money when paying their council tax.
“If we had unlimited funds, we could do everything. We don’t have unlimited funds,” he said. “It is proposed that bills go up by 4.99% and the suggestion is that people aren’t getting a return on their investment from that. Well in fact, if you look at underlying inflation in the last year, 10%, you look at wage inflation, that’s going to be comfortably over 5%, but we are still delivering those core services, housing for the homeless, adult social care, children’s care. Special educational needs spend is huge, the public would be staggered at the cost of looking after some poor child who has got multiple problems, the numbers really are frightening, its hundreds of thousands of pounds but you can’t argue with spending that. So, for that best part of five percent, I think you are getting something back.
“No council has enough money, but we have to present a balanced budget.
“There are things we must do. Let us just pick on roads for a moment. We just got an additional £9 million from government to do potholes. That is additional money that we have got in, over and above the budget. If you cross the Tamar and go up country, you look at how bad the roads are there. On a comparative basis, our roads are very good.”
When questioned on Cornwall Council’s £20 million payment to Thurrock Council, Cllr Harris emphatically denied the claims by Cllr Parsons, adding: “If you look at our books, we have spare cash on our balance sheet, so, we try to make the best use of it. We put it on deposit with banks, we’ve got a treasury management strategy, that is very clearly written down and is approved by either cabinet or full council each year. It sets out limits of what we put where and how much.
“So, we did not give Thurrock £20-million, we lent them £20-million in the normal run of business. Think of it like a bank account, a two-year fixed deposit matures in November, yes, they hit financial problems, and yes, they’re in special measures. In the end, councils can’t go bust. Thurrock in particular, have got alternative sources of finances available, this loan is repayable in November of this year, and it will be repaid.”
However, when asked if there was a guarantee on the return of these funds Cllr Harris said: “Do we have a written guarantee from the government and Bank of England, no.”