Whilst not for a moment diminishing the importance of money and its proper accounting for, I confess there are times when I find the subject a crashing bore. It seems in chasing down every penny, arguing over the merits of borrowing versus saving up, and distilling the rationale in respect of the different funds available, we lose sight of what we want to do with the money.
Rather like those whose contribution to a debate on an utterly compelling issue insist on dissecting the process rather than the subject at hand, it does look like the argument over accountancy practises is an exercise in clouding the real issues at hand.
In Southend-on-Sea we are seeing a scrap between the Conservative administration and the Independent Group over borrowing levels and how this is paid back. Aware that I am about to over-simplify the issue I think we can distil the argument as follows: the Independents claim that borrowing has been excessive, that we (the council tax payers) are paying back to much, and that there is deception at hand.
I am confident that borrowing has not always been prudent in the past in Southend-on-Sea. I also think that this, in part at least, may be the view gained with the perfect vision of hindsight – in other words, any borrowing is speculative, and it is possible that unpredicted economic wobbles could have adversely affected repayment regimes.
But, I confess to a large dose of ignorance on this subject. However, I can point to Cllr Nigel Holdcroft’s expostulation on this subject – and whether you accept what he has written will doubtless be coloured by your views of his administration. Needless to say, the Independent Group, led in this subject by Cllr Ron Woodley, take a different view.
However, I am concerned about where this debate is going, especially when considering who is likely to be running the Borough post May 22nd. An argument that borrowing is bad and that things should be saved up for leaves one wondering whether an Independent led administration will make any investments if given the chance.
I have lambasted the local administration for its waste, perhaps best exemplified by the Warrior Square kiosk. Regardless of where the money comes from, everything spent by the council ultimately comes from tax-payers pockets. It is beholden on councillors to ensure public funds are not frittered away on useless vanity projects. However, there are things that the council should be spending money on, and some of this money will have to be borrowed. For instance, a new primary school in the town centre is a long cherished Labour wish. I would be distressed to see this scuppered because a bean-counter insisted on the funds being pre-existing before a brick could be laid.
Council spending plans should live and die on the merits of their suitability, not kicked into the long grass because an obsession with fiscal process. I would insist on prudence, but would argue that investing in our future is prudent.