SWINDON Council’s level of debt has risen by more than 20 per cent over the past year and by April 1 it is expected to owe the bank £120m.
This is an increase of more than £20m on the same point last year and will see an extra £1m added to the town’s debt charges. This means the council will be paying almost £10m in charges alone, something opponents say is unacceptable.
Council leaders say the money has been spent on vital projects, such as laying the infrastructure for the Wichelstowe development, which will be paid back when the land is sold.
However, the Labour Group says much of the money has been wasted on projects like the Whalebridge Car Park, which they say cost £15m, and believes the £45m borrowed on Wichel-stowe is too much.
Group Leader Coun Jim Grant (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney) said: “While the Conservative controlled council have made cuts to things like children’s centres, roads and bus services, and are now proposing to charge people £40 per year to have their green waste collected, they have racked up huge debts that has resulted in £1m increases in annual debt charges both in this financial year and the next financial year.
“I think Swindon residents will rightly be asking themselves why the Conservative administration has got Swindon Council in a position that they’re increasing their debt charges budget while making unprecedented cuts to important council services that affect us all.
“The answer is that they have taken the decision that they will spend money on things like an unneeded car park in the town centre. At some stage when you make this unnecessary spending your annual debt charges have to go up.
“What worries me is that it is likely that the council’s annual debt charges will go up again in the future and that is something we should be desperately trying to avoid.”
Council Leader David Renard (Con, Haydon Wick) disputes this, saying all the money has been vital for the town’s regrowth and much of it will be recouped.
He said: “Fundamentally we are investing in Swindon and its future. With Wichelstowe we expect to recover all of the money once the development starts to move forward.
“The town centre was in desperate need of a new car park and that is what we have done, with plans to knock down two which are well past their best.
“The car park will lead the way for new office space and bus station so it is a part of bringing Swindon forward.
“If Labour do not want us to invest in Swindon’s future then I think they should come out and say so. Local authorities have very good credit ratings so the cost of debt is much lower.”