Double your Uttlesford Council Tax bill? R4U unwilling to support Tory UDC budget that exposes residents to £100m property speculation risk

Residents for Uttlesford (R4U) has announced that it does not support the £100m loan that UDC intends to take out for property speculation as part of its 2019 budget because it exposes residents to an unacceptable financial risk that could more than double future council tax bills.

Paul Fairhurst (R4U) Paul Fairhurst (R4U)

R4U’s Cllr Paul Fairhurst, an R4U district councillor, said “UDC’s 2018 accounts failed to note a nasty surprise that has been hidden from residents, and we don’t like it. UDC borrowed £50m to buy a stake in Chesterford Research Park. The value of that property has been independently audited and has already dropped by £2.7 million. When other costs are included the accounts show a total loss so far of £3.25 million. Now in the 2019 budget UDC is looking to do it all over again, and this time wants to borrow £100m to invest in more commercial property speculation.”

R4U’s Paul Fairhurst continued “UDC is a provider of public services not a property speculator and it has shown it makes risky choices by ignoring the expert advice it was given. It exposes the council and residents to huge financial losses as has happened Northampton. The 2018 government inspection into the Conservative-run Northamptonshire Council accused leaders of “weak budgetary control” after they exposed residents to £70m losses, forcing tax hikes and service cuts. If the same were to happen in Uttlesford, residents could see the average council tax bill more than double to an eye-watering £4,400 per year.”

Cllr Paul Fairhurst, who is also a Saffron Walden Town Councillor, added “R4U has been prudent with the budget it controls at Saffron Walden Town Council. Four years ago it inherited a £1m financial black hole left by the departing Tories, who also dumped a load of services on it from UDC for it to run. We put in place a 5-year financial plan to rebuild the town’s finances. Strong governance has fixed the finances ahead of plan, meaning that Saffron Walden has been able to invest in many new services and facilities for residents. Because of this we’ve been able to cap the 2019 town tax increase to 1.5%, half that of UDC’s.”

Paul Fairhurst concluded “But the way the current UDC administration has managed its current investment portfolio is risky and unacceptable. They are gambling with residents’ money. For us to support UDC’s £100m loan, we’d need to see much stricter controls, an independent investment committee, and a properly balanced portfolio of investments. During the debate at the full council meeting we got the Tories to concede there was a problem as they separated out the £100m loan item from the main budget vote. It was approved by the Conservative majority, but after 2 years we have now forced their leader Howard Rolfe to commit to councillors to bring back a proper governance proposal for approval.”

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