Fringe Box



Angry Reaction to Political Press Release Proclaiming GBC’s Success in Avoiding Effective Bankruptcy

Published on: 28 Sep, 2023
Updated on: 2 Oct, 2023

By Martin Giles

A “good news” press release on the financial situation at Guildford Borough Council from the party in control, the Lib Dems, has met with an angry reaction from opposition parties.

The press release proclaimed: “Good news as Liberal Democrats leadership at Guildford Borough Council announces balanced budget for current financial year.

“The Liberal Democrats running Guildford Borough Council are delighted that, after much hard work, the immediate threat of a Section 114 Notice [a formal acknowledgement that a council cannot balance its books and is effectively bankrupt] has been avoided by the council for the current financial year.

“We want to be clear that while the challenge is far from over, the Lib Dem administration is 100 per cent focused on ensuring that our borough and its residents are served well and that core services, and those supporting the most vulnerable, are not compromised.”

Cllr Philip Brooker

But Philip Brooker, the leader of opposition at GBC and the second biggest political group, the Conservatives, said: “The Lib Dems must take this dire financial situation seriously rather than focusing on PR stunts.”

Former council leader Joss Bigmore, whose Residents for Guildford & Villages party was in coalition with the Lib Dems for most of the last administration, reacted more angrily: “I am absolutely incredulous. The Lib Dems have rushed out a press release before any scrutiny of their claims at a formal GBC committee meeting.

“Given the lack of confidence in the financial numbers produced over the past few years this reeks of desperation to show competence which they sorely lack.

Cllrs Joss Bigmore and Julia McShane pictured in October 2022 at the leadership handover

“The rank unprofessionalism and disrespect shown to the other councillors is staggering. In six months of supposed leadership, the Liberal Democrats have trashed the financial reputation of GBC, claiming we were weeks away from a Section 114, and now claim they have found over £4 million of annualised savings with minimal disruption to services, and have saved the day!”

Much has been made during council debates on the financial situation about the need for cross-party working and council leader Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) thanked the other party leaders in a statement within the press release, saying: “Everyone has worked at pace to achieve the primary goal of achieving a balanced budget for 2023/24. I would like to thank the cross-party working group, made up of leaders from all political parties, who have scrutinised and advised on decision-making during the process.”

But criticism came from across the political spectrum. The mildest reaction came from Labour group leader James Walsh (Bellfields & Slyfield), who said that he was “rather disappointed” that the Liberal Democrats had been so quick to claim political credit for something “that hasn’t been to full council yet”.

It felt like “indecent haste,” he said, “no doubt driven by the likelihood of an imminent general election campaign season”.

Cllr James Walsh

He urged caution “before claiming credit for anything” but admitted, “the key issue here is that it looks likely that the books will balance for this year, which is good news and will temporarily keep the Section 114 wolf away from Guildford’s door.

“However, there’s much, much more to do and I think that it would be more helpful to remain focused on the tough decisions still to be made than on the point-scoring, likely to wreck the cross-party working we need to make this work.”

And any hope for that continued cross-party working might be forlorn. Cllr Bigmore said: “It’s time they [the Lib Dems] stood aside, they can then focus on their sole objective which is Zoe Franklin’s general election campaign and let those of us more concerned with local issues focus on the borough.  I’ll be resigning from all working groups chaired by Liberal Democrat Executive Members which I am sure they will welcome.”

And Philp Brooker added: “The budget issued by the Liberal Democrat administration, without consultation or endorsement by the council, is unfortunately based on over-optimistic and naive assumptions.

“I fear for Guildford and its residents if the Lib Dem leadership believes its own spin. The facts remain that they overspent by £40 million in four years, which is a catastrophic legacy of failure. They have also presided over a council with senior staff turnover at an all-time high, reflecting a council in disarray.”

But Richard Lucas [Lib Dem, Ash Vale], the lead councillor for Finance and Assets, pointed a finger at the Conservatives: “The situation we found ourselves in back in May has been brought about by years of council underfunding by the Conservative government, together with a rapid rise in interest rates which have increased our debt servicing costs on capital projects.

“We have responded to this and met our short-term objectives, but there is no time to rest. We still have much work to do. The Lib Dem team and I are already moving forward on a proactive plan for how we achieve a balanced budget next year and beyond. We are aware of the enormity of the task and will not sway from the challenge.”

See also: Breathtaking Hubris and Arrogance

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Responses to Angry Reaction to Political Press Release Proclaiming GBC’s Success in Avoiding Effective Bankruptcy

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    September 29, 2023 at 12:02 am

    Others can add the final total cost!

    A bridge too far over the Wey
    A pop corn village for Christmas
    A ghetto in the planning
    A Local Plan with no costing
    A wall of flats with no bus access to the station
    A reduced capacity bus station.
    A under capacity sewage treatment works.
    Paths now unusable
    Ditches without gradients

    Nothing to do with finance here folks..

  2. Mark Stamp Reply

    September 29, 2023 at 10:16 am

    The Lib Dems seem to be saying: “We have a balanced budget and you should thank us for it. We won’t tell you what it is yet and where the cuts are (apart from hanging baskets).

    “And also the media should regurgitate our press releases without criticism but not expect to be able to interview our leaders.”

    The Lib Dems seem to be copying the current government playbook.

    • George Potter Reply

      October 2, 2023 at 9:37 am

      1) No, the Lib Dems are saying that the budget had been balanced this year but that a lot of work remains to be done.

      2) Both the GBC press release (ignored by The Dragon) and the Lib Dem press release included links to the relevant financial reports on the council website. It’s a shame that those links didn’t make it into the published articles, but I guess that “outrage as council administration issues press release” quotes must have taken up the space that otherwise could have been spent informing the public. Pity.

      George Potter is a Lib Dem borough councillor for Burpham.

      • Wayne Smith Reply

        October 2, 2023 at 1:23 pm

        I found a link from the GBC website to the Financial monitoring report. Not at all difficult. I am however puzzled as to why there is one item; PL9 Rebuild Crematorium £11 million.

        Why is this included for 2023-2024 expenditure ? Hasn’t the new crematorium been in use for at least a couple of years now? I’m not an accountant so there may be good reason for this item to be included. Explanation welcomed.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    September 29, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Reminds me of Incrediboy, the antihero from the Pixar films Incredibles 1 & 2 who saved the world from the problems he created.

  4. Howard Moss Reply

    September 29, 2023 at 12:57 pm

    Perhaps The Dragon could offer Council Leader Julia McShane the chance to explain all this to residents and voters by way of an interview, her continued refusal to do so seems undemocratic and unaccountable.

    Howard Moss is chair of R4GV

    Editor’s response: we sent several emails to Cllr McShane inviting her to be interviewed as part of the “Leaders’ Interviews” series. Sadly, we received no response. We also asked the council leader for an interview regarding the apparent Housing Revenue Account overspend but received a response from GBC Communications to say she had declined.

  5. John Redpath Reply

    September 29, 2023 at 1:08 pm

    The really good news must be that now Julia McShane has sorted the budget she will have time to answer The Dragon’s email request for a leader’s interview!

    John Redpath is a former R4GV borough councillor.

  6. John Ferns Reply

    October 2, 2023 at 7:57 pm

    I totally understand why non Lib Dem electors in the May elections should be unhappy about the state of affairs in the council chamber with the insipid and uninspiring leadership of the elected Executive, exemplified by its no-profile, no-show council leader. For this we have thank Mr Horsley and his pre-election antics.

    At a time when the whole future of GBC is at stake and the officer leadership of the wider Waverley/Guildford partnership has lost key members, with Waverley residents questioning the justification of having their officers spending increasing amounts of time and energy supporting GBC (, the need for a strong, resolute GBC council Executive is urgent.

    There is a historical analogy in all this. Westminster, 7th May 1940, Sir Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain… “Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go”.

    In the eyes of this regular viewer of GBC webcasts, there is only one Executive member, its youngest member, Cllr George Potter, who demonstrates any real drive and cogency in debate. A lone voice in a sea of mediocrity.

    Residents of Guildford, who are also supporters of the Lib Dems, you have got the leadership you deserve. Just a pity it has been inflicted on the rest of us.

  7. Frank Emery Reply

    October 3, 2023 at 1:53 pm

    I worked for a company some years ago which used creative accounting. Didn’t work well. They folded soon after.

  8. RWL Davies Reply

    October 9, 2023 at 6:17 pm

    To slightly misquote Mandy Rice-Davies, well known to those of a certain age: “they would say that wouldn’t they”.

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