Conservative-run Surrey County Council spends £15.9 million a year on debt interest on their £321 million of debt. Their assets register lists £31.5 million of surplus assets. It also lists £4.5 million of community assets. There is also their main list – total value put at £933 million. This is on "net book" value rather than market value. Often value depends on whether change of use for an asset could be agreed. So maybe the council owns a billion pounds worth of stuff – maybe more. So I am sceptical as to whether its debt interest burden is a necessary one to be imposing on Council Taxpayers.
There are around 150 "tied accommodation" items. Are all those school caretaker cottages occupied? Are they representing value for money for the Council Taxpayer?
There are a couple of dozen youth centres. Are they all fizzing with activity? Even if they are, could these activities take place elsewhere – in a church or village hall? Stanwell Youth Centre is valued at £1.34 million. Probably the council should sell its youth centres, or some of them, and "share the proceeds" of reduced debt interest between lower Council Tax and more funding for voluntary groups to put on youth activities.
If the council could eliminate debt it could cut Council Tax rather than increase it by 1.99%.
Spelthorne residents face a double whammy. The district council is also increasing its element of the Council Tax – by 1.94%. It says the tax rise adds £130,000 to its coffers. But it is turning down £68,000 in grant it could have got for freezing the Council Tax. So it only really has an extra £62,000. The council says it is for grants to voluntary groups. Yet on its Council Tax leaflet its tells residents how communications spending is rising to £1.336 million in the coming financial year from £761,000 this financial year. Quite extraordinary. So far as debt interest is concerned, its don't have any. Good for them. The council is in "interest receivable" territory. But asset management is still important and they have a boring but long asset register. The council should be looking to sell where possible, for more interest receivable, and a lower Council Tax burden for hard working Spelthorne residents.
Reading Borough Council spends £11 million a year on interest on its £328 million debt. That's nearly a sixth of the Council Tax revenue.
Some of its caretaker's houses are on huge sites – over three "hectares" (which is over seven acres and big enough for a school.) Then there is the usual municipal quota of pubs, theatres, hotels, business parks, leisure centres, cattle markets ….oh and a "kebab van" (?)
Reading is increasing Council Tax by 1.9%.