CABINET member for finance Russell Holland has come under fire from Labour after proposing that the council should be able to spend up to £10 million on projects without being held accountable by the public.

The proposals were put forward at last Wednesday’s cabinet meeting where Coun Holland outlined plans to create a Commercial Investment Fund where up to £50m would be set aside in a budget to be spent on projects that would generate revenue.

Cabinet say the purpose of the investment strategy is to generate income and invest in land that might have economic development and regeneration potential for the authority but leader of Swindon’s Labour group, Coun Jim Grant, has criticised the plans.

He added: “What is being proposed is for the cabinet member for finance being able to spend up to £10m on any one of his political pet projects with zero scrutiny or accountability before making those decisions.

“It is undemocratic, opaque and against any accountability for how public money is spent. We don’t live in a dictatorship where only one person knows where the money is spent and I suggest what is being proposed is in practice not much different to that.

“Public scrutiny of major council spending decisions make this council stronger, not weaker.”

Funding the investment could see the council use their reserves, capital receipts, prudential borrowing and revenue contribution where they have the powers to do so.

Coun Holland defended the strategy at last week’s cabinet meeting and said that “the borough has to be able to earn money, not just save it.”

He acknowledged the concerns around accountability and safeguards, but believes the accounting systems built into the proposal would mitigate a significant part of the risk.

At Monday’s Scrutiny Committee meeting he even offered to take the report back to the cabinet stage to ensure that, so far as is possible, he could achieve a cross party consensus.

However after it emerged that two imminent commercial investments would have to be abandoned if there was a delay, opposition councillors agreed to approve the proposals.

The administration has pledged to outline more stringent accountability measures before the proposals go before the next full council meeting.