[L]atest figures from South Lakeland District Council show that the ‘cash-strapped’ authority has almost £7 million in unallocated reserves – equivalent to more than half its annual revenue budget.
Earlier this year, the authority blamed funding restraints for its decision to raise council tax to the maximum legal limit and claimed it would have to do the same for each of the next five years.
While sitting on reserves equivalent to more than half its total £13 million annual net revenue budget, a number of high-profile projects, awaiting council decisions, have been delayed:
- A public consultation on the future of the Lido in Grange-over-Sands ended in February 2017. Despite the length of time that has passed, the council has still to come forward with a plan for the local landmark.
- The council has also failed to come forward with firm proposals to reintroduce car parking on New Road in Kendal, which was closed at in September 2017 to widespread public outcry. The authority has spent more than £40,000 fencing-off and digging up the site but is still to decide on its future.
Councillor Ben Berry, said: “This year, South Lakeland’s Liberal Democrat District Council pleaded poverty when it put up council tax by the maximum legal limit.
“These figures show that far from being cash-strapped, the authority is sat on almost £7 million which has not been earmarked for any future projects.
“Councils should of course maintain a healthy cushion to balance the books, but the practise of stashing away more than half the council’s annual revenue budget is going too far at a time when significant projects are waiting months and months for a decision.”
Responding to the claims, Giles Archibald, Leader of the Council and Finance Portfolio Holder said: “As Ben Berry knows, financial reserves are so much more than just a ‘cushion’.
“After Storm Desmond devastated our area just a few years ago, we were able to use these reserves to provide people with much needed support in their hour of need. We collected a huge amount of flood damaged possessions from the roadside, had emergency evacuation centres available and provided a base and support for the Kendal Cares initiative in the days after the floods.
“When the safety report found that parking at New Road in Kendal unsafe, unlawful and therefore uninsurable, we were able to use our strong financial position to offer cheaper parking for local residents in council car parks. As Ben knows, the future of this area will be decided by the people of Kendal once we have a finalised plan from the Environment Agency.
“It is only because we have been careful with your money over the years that we were able to do these things – councils across the UK who have cut their reserves have struggled when disaster hit, and one Conservative county council has recently ‘gone bankrupt’.
“And by being careful with your money we have kept council tax rises down – for five of the 12 years we’ve run the council we haven’t put up council tax at all, and despite what the Conservatives claim we didn’t put up council tax by the maximum amount this year. Yet when the Conservatives last led the council, council tax rose by as much as 10% a year.
“As regards Ben’s claims about the Grange Lido, we have been clear that we will bring forward a major plan of works soon for council to consider. Indeed, as Ben should know, this was discussed at a Grange Town council meeting just last month.
“I’m proud to stand on our record of carefully managing your money and am grateful for the support we’re being given for next week’s local elections.”