Friday, 26 February 2010

Are Woking Tories socialist?

The title is obviously a bit tongue in cheek but not much. Not content with running their own power company and and an eco services company, the council this week has bought  the second largest shopping centre in town and that hideous skyscraper that dominates the town centre for £68million. This is despite the fact that Woking is the most indebted borough council in the country already.
Unsurprisingly this is generating huge controversy in the town. Just look at the comments below the local paper article. Apparently a number of the posters are UKIP supporters (Rob Burberry is the UKIP PPC). They can see an opportunity to attack the Tories from the right. Already one of the Tory councillors, with the great name of Peter W Ankers had resigned because of the debt. Now of course he is even more incensed.
"I regard it as too much money being spent on an asset that I am not entirely sure is going to give the returns that you expect it to give."
The local Lib Dems who mainly supported the move  seem to be divided but mainly over the lack of consultation as demonstrated on Rosie Sharpley's blog. At least the Lib Dems have some intellectual justification for their position as there is a strong social democratic streak in the party. The Tories are however dancing on the head of a pin.

The leader of the council John Kingsbury said
"This is a significant step towards  underpinning the medium to long term financial stability of the council and strengthening the economic vitality of the town."
Local Council candidate Simon Ashall said on his blog
"The act of investing in tangible assets on a long-term basis and generating net profits from those investments is using borrowing as a force for good." and
"No longer are councils about revenue income, support grants, non-domestic rates and council tax versus costs – they have a wider, enabling role to play through investment in communities."

 Councillors Ankers, Kingsbury, and Coulson.

The classic comment came from Ray Morgan the council Chief Executive.
"This is not to do with debt. Debt is something you owe that you can't pay back. We are not in that position. This is borrowing. We have the ability to borrow long term and invest in projects that will benefit residents."
Honest, that was said with no hint of irony!

In another move this week it looks likely the council will move forward with a plan to upgrade the Hoe valley to prevent flooding and build houses. The borrowing for this will push the total borrowing in Woking up to over £200million, which is £2,222 for every man, woman and child in the town! If this was extrapolated across the country it would mean local government having debts of over £130billion! Not far short of where Brown and Darling have got us on the national stage.

Cut to Westminster.

OK. Imagine the scene Humfrey Malins (Woking MP) and John Kingsbury (leader of the council) have a meeting with Dave and George. They want to commend Woking to them as the model going forward.
"We think we should borrow billions, because borrowing is a source for good." says Humfrey.
"Nationalise the power supply like we have in Woking,"says John, "its much more efficient. More borrowing will underpin long term financial stability."
"We have a wider enabling role to play through investment in communities, " says Humfrey "after all, its not really debt, its borrowing."
Dave and George have a eureka moment. "That's it! Instead of cutting borrowing faster than Labour, we'll increase borrowing and nationalise stuff!"

Enter men in white coats.....

Edit 1300. Just seen a poll being done here. 


  1. I wonder what will happen when the lender(s) foreclose?

  2. I think one of the things concerning local people as I understand it, is that they only have the word of Mr Morgan (the Chief Exec) at the moment, and some say he has misled people in the past. If the revenue stream did dry up and the council couldn't raise money somewhere else, I really don't know what would happen.

  3. This whole project will be fraught with difficulties, not just because of the large debt. Imagine the work load for councillors and officers who now have oversight of a major piece of real estate. There will be yet more meetings, more papers to review, more budgets to discuss, more staff to recruit, discipline and manage.
    This by the way, is the same for the Car Parks Project, Thameswey, H G Wells Centre, Sports Centre, Canopy, Lightbox, Hoe Valley, The 'Green House opposite Brookwood, and any other of the major schemes which are nothing to do with supplying services to residents. All these projects over ran budgets, were late and under perform requiring subsidies from tax payers. Thus managing the council's real remit will become overwhelmed with a strong likelihood it will be badly managed too. Then where will we be? Carey Street!