Fringe Box



Opinion: The Lib Dem Budget for Guildford – Just Not Good Enough

Published on: 4 Feb, 2024
Updated on: 6 Feb, 2024

Cllr Philip Brooker

By Philip Brooker

Leader of the Conservative Group at Guildford Borough Council and borough councillor for Worplesdon

At the budget meeting this coming Wednesday, Guildford Liberal Democrats will force through a budget only designed to keep them in power.

Their Finance spokesman has already made it clear that this is a survival budget – for his party. It has nothing to do with what is good for Guildford or its residents except their presumptuous
assumption that the Lib Dems are good for Guildford.

They have shared power in Guildford from 2019 to 2023 and have been in sole control since
nearly five years in total.

They have mismanaged residents’ money, made accounting mistakes, squandered the considerable reserves they inherited and lost control of millions of pounds of spending.

They talk about working for Guildford but they won’t even deal honestly with opposition parties using Lib Dem press releases to pretend all parties agree with them.

Proper scrutiny is avoided and information withheld from those of us with “a different coloured rosette”. For instance, they tell us that they will sell £50 million of resident’s assets but give virtually no information on why they chose that figure or what they will sell. Not good enough. Not democratic.

Even more worrying is that there is no strategy to underpin their budget as officers have conceded. It is just a string of unpalatable measures and stringent cost controls coupled with as much revenue raising as possible with little or no regard as to what is good for Guildford.

The GBC budget report to be debated on Wednesday, February 7, at Millmead. Click on image to link and select item 11.

My assessment is that the council is property-rich and cash-poor. In the short-term there is an imbalance between assets and liabilities forcing the council to use short-term borrowing to cover cash shortages.

In other words, they are overborrowed. The reduction in borrowing proposed is confusing, contradictory and probably won’t happen.

There are more ambiguities and contradictions. The deficit appears to have been reduced to £2.4 million, although it is said to be £2.7 million on another page!

This is achieved, apparently, by finding more income, cost savings, reduced interest payments from unclear programme reductions and by disposals. Similarly, they claim they will reduce debt, yet the report shows debt rising on one page and falling on another.

The report says the figures are calculated differently, but how do we know which to trust?

The little reserves they haven’t yet squandered were corrected from £23.1 million to £15.1 million last July – which gave rise to the threat of Guildford going bankrupt.

They have now been restated as £28.8 million, but only £1.4 million of this receives any meaningful commentary. The whole budget smacks of being put together too quickly, perhaps leading to yet more inaccuracies.

This is not the budget Guildford needs. There is an absence of prioritisation. It shaves costs, makes cuts and raises revenue across the board. Perhaps the worst are the sky-high parking charges that are doing such damage to our shopping centre.

We used to have footfall statistics. No longer.

This is not a budget to take Guildford into a secure future. Guildford deserves better.

Share This Post

Responses to Opinion: The Lib Dem Budget for Guildford – Just Not Good Enough

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    February 4, 2024 at 7:45 pm

    A bridge too far, and a village which went pop! Possible placed the incumbants in a historic disadvantage!

    Not withstanding a foolish decision in 2004 executed in 2023 was Wey to unreasonable considering the need was in 2017!

    I perceive stones and glass houses in this opinion!

  2. H Trevor Jones Reply

    February 5, 2024 at 10:43 am

    This gives worrying info although it’s a pity it’s phrased in such a party-political way. Can all financially savvy councillors directly involved, from all parties, please get together to get the budget details right and properly clarified, without making any party-political points.

    Even experts can make mistakes. In my church we have an excellent treasurer (he and I were at Cambridge together in slightly different years, both studying maths!). But even so, as a fellow member of the church finance committee, I still spot the occasional typo of incorrect or mis-matching figures in the church accounts as part of the double-checking process.

    It must be even more difficult to get GBC accounts and budgets correct than our church accounts.

  3. John Murray Reply

    February 6, 2024 at 11:23 am

    One can only agree with H Trevor Jones that it is perhaps pernickety to criticise minor errors and typos in GBC’s accounts but not all discrepancies are minor. A recurrent feature of the council’s finance operation is publishing numbers that vary from the last ones reported with no explanation for the change.

    Many of these changes, involving tens of millions of pounds, can hardly be described as trifling, and it cannot be easy for councillors to make a balanced budgeting judgement when faced with such discrepancies.

  4. RWL Davies Reply

    February 6, 2024 at 3:57 pm

    Deliberate obfuscation or incompetence in financial reporting?

    Perhaps a bit of both with the latter to the fore?

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *