Opposition to council’s borrowing record ‘churlish’ says deputy leader

‘A celebration of success’ is how Councillor Peter Chowney described the way in which Hastings Borough Council (HBC) manages its finances.

Mr Chowney was speaking at the meeting of HBC’s ruling cabinet on Monday night as members reviewed the mid-year treasury management report.

Peter Chowney, HBC’s lead councillor for finance.

Peter Grace, the council’s Assistant Director Financial Services and Revenues told members it had been a difficult year in which to manage cashflows and congratulated members for putting in place strategies and policies that had been ‘invaluable’.

Highlights from the year included a reduction in the council’s capital programme with a consequent reduction in borrowing.

Mr Chowney pointed out that the treasury report was a statutory one and had not in the past attracted much attention but because of the council’s record on borrowing more people were now interested in its contents.

HBC’s borrowing, he said, was about regeneration and he said the council had not spent as much as expected as projects did not move as quickly as expected in ‘exceptional times’.

On September 30th last year HBC’s indebtedness to the Public Works Loan Board was £64,997,506 having been £65,301,339 six months earlier.

“We haven’t gone down the line of some councils in borrowing large sums of money to invest outside the borough purely for income generation… our borrowing has been aimed much more at regeneration purposes and where we have made a profit out of that all to the good,” he told the meeting and reminded them that the council’s commercial property acquisition programme had brought HBC £1m a year in income.

The decision on when to invest and borrow and how much to invest and borrow had worked out well Mr Chowney said and he told the cabinet advice from council officers had been very good.

He thanked officers for their work in maximising the council’s return on its resources and concluded: “I think that while this is a rather dry statutory report on the surface it is also a celebration of success.”

HBC’s deputy leader Colin Fitzgerald said: “I’m happy to be scrutinised on the borrowing we have taken but any suggestion from the opposition that we have been reckless, given the levels of borrowing at government level, would be a little churlish on their part.”

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