GUILDFORD Borough Council is on the precipice of bankruptcy and drastic measures that balance the books while preserving essential services are the only way out of it, say Guildford’s Labour group of councillors.
A range of policy decisions, harsh government cuts and errors by the council going back years have been compounded by rising interest rates to create a crisis in the council’s finances.
While not the same scale of Woking’s £2bn debt, Guildford Council will struggle to balance its books during the next few years without selling off some of its assets, changing the way that it works and restructuring services.
While opposition parties have been quick to pin the blame on each other, Labour’s position is that everyone’s immediate focus needs to be on agreeing a response that gets the council back into the black while protecting the key services that our residents rely on.
Group Leader Cllr James Walsh said: “This is a bad position to be in, but it must be placed into a wider context in which many other councils are facing similar problems following thirteen years of cuts to their finances by central government.
“This has forced many councils to borrow vast sums of money to invest in assets. Guildford was one of those and, while income was good when the interest rate was low, it was a risky strategy to pursue if the economy nosedived.
“Compounding this are several errors in the council’s finances and financial monitoring recently uncovered by a review, which have skewed budget assumptions. The Labour group will work to make sure that lessons are learned so that this never happens again.”
He added: “The council leadership is now drawing up plans to close the £18.5m budget gap and get on a more even footing. While we have concerns about the authority’s capacity to do this at pace, we are keeping an open mind on the options they may develop and present to us.
“Whatever is finally agreed, tough decisions will have to be made to get there. Labour will work to protect the interests of our residents by having a say on the financial recovery plan, testing proposals and assumptions presented to us and agreeing a final settlement that we hope will restore stability.”
James Walsh., Leader of the Labour Group on Guildford Council