The row over whether Teignbridge District Council has any debt or not has continued after Conservatives said the annual accounts showed the authority was debt free.
At a previous full council meeting, Liberal Democrat Cllr Alan Connett, the new portfolio member for corporate services, said he was surprised when he uncovered the black hole in the finances left behind by the Conservatives, with a £60m debt shock.
He said that the debt is made up of £15.5m the council spent on buying the Market Walk shopping centre in Newton Abbot that will eventually have to be repaid, in addition to a further £45m of borrowing that previous administration committed to.
Conservatives immediately dismissed the claims being made, and Cllr Phil Bullivant, leader of the Conservative group, told last Monday’s executive: “The audit report clearly states that the council has zero debt and borrowings.”
(Image: Andy Styles)
He added: “This gives me cause for concern as the portfolio holder has been making statement contrary to this. The claims have caused a huge amount of distress and brought the reputation of the council down.
“I am concerned whether we can trust this report without a retraction of the previous comments being made.”
He also asked Cllr Connett to withdraw his previous remarks and also called for the deputy leader of the council, Cllr Alistair Dewhirst, to withdraw comments he made in an email saying that saying financial mismanagement means that his party cannot deliver on their promises.
Cllr Connett hit back though, saying that his news release referred to a £60m debt shock and not a £60m debt, adding; “I didn’t say the council was in debt.”
He added: “At some point we have to repay the money somewhere and somehow. The accounts identify the council’s borrowing requirements and it is clear and proper to point out that the council may go into debt to achieve the capital projects that have been set out.
“The audit report said that if the Conservative capital programme was approved it would cost £45m. I was just highlighting the position the Conservatives had left the council in and I am sorry that they got so upset, but those are the facts.”
Responding to the comments made about him, Cllr Dewhirst said: “I have never at any point that we would not be able to do any of the manifesto commitments and I stand by that. I said to one constituent that because of mismanagement that we would not be able to do what he was asking us to do. I did not include the council in that.”
The email from Kevin Lake, who was the environment portfolio holder prior to May’s elections where he lost his seat in the Kenn Valley ward, to Cllr Dewhirst had asked when he could expect the pledge of free green bin collections to be implemented.
But in response, Cllr Dewhirst said that the literature where they pledged to introduce free green bin collections was from their 2015 manifesto.
He added: “Our pledge in the 2019 election was to freeze the green bin charges for two years. The pledge from the previous election four years ago was to abolish the charges. This is no longer possible due to the current financial position of the council. Four years ago it was possible, today it is not – I think that speaks for itself as to the quality of the management.”