WARRINGTON Borough Council leader Cllr Russ Bowden has defended the council’s investment in two huge retail properties in Greater Manchester which has been branded as ‘reckless’ by Warrington South Conservative Parliamentary Candidate Andy Carter.
The purchase of a Tesco store in Bolton and an Asda store in Hulme follows acquisitions of Birchwood Park, Eddie Stobart’s Offices in Appleton Thorn and a one third share in Redwood Bank, which take the total spent by the Labour controlled Borough Council to more than £1billion.
Mr Carter says the the most recent acquisitions had been been kept under wraps by Councillors and expose the Council to increased risk in the retail sector which is undergoing massive change.
Prospective MP, Mr Carter says he’s worried at the advice being given to Councilors; “Only recently we have a respected set of Economists forecasting half of all retail sales will be online within the next decade, up from around a fifth currently. Up and down the country there are big empty retail units where chains have withdrawn, shut up shop and moved as the market has shifted onto the internet – and our Labour Councillors see these as sound investments? This is reckless spending with our money.”
Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday Politics last weekend, Mr Carter also raised concerns about the Council’s recent £62million investment into a solar farm in Yorkshire. “All of these schemes are using money which has been borrowed by the Council and whenever you borrow you have to pay the money back with interest”.
“Total borrowings are now above £1biliion, they constantly tell us they’re short of money, excessive borrowing and risky investments isn’t the solution. This £1billion debt ultimately falls onto the shoulders of Council Tax Payers if these investments fail. Warrington are one of the few Authorities borrowing to this extent, we need greater certainty that the Council’s debt fueled spending strategy will benefit the Borough for the long term rather than place a huge financial burden on us all”.
But Cllr Bowden responded: “My definition of recklessness is the Tories and their ideologically driven austerity programme, which is responsible for taking 60p in every pound from councils like Warrington.
“These shallow comments show a chronic lack of facts and understanding about just what has happened to local authorities under the Tories. Instead of pushing for more Government funding to protect vital frontline services, we just get the usual myopic criticism of the Council and an investment programme that is delivering much needed income and in the face of Tory austerity. I challenge him to tell the residents of Warrington what £30m of cuts he would have preferred to have given them this year instead.