Wednesday, 2 June 2010

"Debt mountain" of H&F Council

Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh has launched a new crusade. He is determined, he says, to get on top of what he calls the council's "debt mountain", and with his administration being keen admirers of North Korean style propaganda he's mocked up a cardboard image to illsutrate the point (pictured).

Cllr Greenhalgh, who swatted away calls to stop cuts to services at the recent AGM of the Council, pledges to sell of buildings that aren't being used (the old Shepherd's Bush Library is likely to be a prime candidate I would think) and uses what seem to be carefully crafted words for the local voluntary sector who have often cried foul at the reduction of their funding in the last few years. He talks of "modern community hubs" instead of "myriad buildings".

If he's right that there are lots of charities operating in lots of buildings, with lots of electric bills not to mention rent that could be brought together with savings made, he should do exactly that. But are there? I honestly don't know, but it's set to be a big local political issue if what this is really likely to mean is further funding cuts for vulnerable people's services. We shall see.

Last time I quoted Cllr Greenhalgh I had a bit of an angry email from his press office so here's what the Dear Leader said in full, taken from the Tory activist site ConservativeHome:

'Freedom with responsibility' is the focus of what I want to achieve for our residents in the next four years. It means that the council will do everything we can over time to become debt-free.

 Only when we have paid off council debt will we be free to put every single penny into delivering frontline services

At the moment our residents are paying £5million every year just for us to stand still. That is without a single bin collected, or a single street being swept.

The council’s historic debt – which dates back more than a generation – stands at £133m.

Think of it as the borough’s credit card. You are paying, through your council tax, £5m every year in interest payments... even before we pay off the debt.

Just think what we could do with that money instead. We could put more money into our schools, parks and into supporting our vulnerable.

And yes, we could return some of the money to you by continuing to lower council tax bills as we have done for the last four years

In H&F, we are proud of the services we deliver while reducing council tax.
Our services are judged to be amongst the best in Britain. In fact, we were recently recognised as the best local authority in Britain.

However, with our debt burden, we are achieving this with one hand tied behind our back.
Our neighbours in Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are all virtually debt-free.

That is why our focus in the next four years is on reducing that debt – but it will not be at the expense of quality frontline services. Quality schools, supporting our vulnerable, safer streets, cleaner streets and decent parks continue to be our absolute priorities.

So, how can we reduce debt while still having quality services? Well, we have already managed to reduce our debt by £36m in the last four years. On top of that we have to pay the costs of borrowing.
Our focus will be on using the buildings we own in the most efficient way possible.

If a building is underused and can be sold to reduce our credit card bill it will be sold.

The days of having a council building on every street are over – our residents want quality services, not bricks and mortar which are often underused.

That is why we will be working with the voluntary sector to look at creating modern community hubs across the borough rather than today’s myriad of often underused and poorly- equipped buildings.

That is our promise to local residents – we will carry on delivering quality, value for money services while doing everything possible to continue reducing our historic debt.

It's a good visual prop but does he really have to wear an expression as if he's in a police station doing a mugshot?!


  1. There is already a coumcil owned building used by lots of different charities, Palingswick House in King St. Unfortunately it appears to be a target for sale, like the Castle Youth Club in Fulham, The Hut in Shepherds Bush and the old Wormholt Library. see
    The council have having a fire sale to achieve small reductions in Council Tax, at the expense of the young, old and disadvantaged. What a shame Stephen Greenhaugh did not make it to the Lords this time round........Iain Muir

  2. I'm sure 'The Hut' will go to a free school initiative. Tiny but hey - if they can park kids on computers to learn to score high on exams it will be cheaper than proper education and socialisation! (Then we can have more Tories!)