Woking Conservatives are Withholding Financial Facts 

April 14, 2021 7:45 PM
By Cllr Graham Chrystie

Victoria Square - Secret Financial Forecasts

Finance Chart - secretThe Conservative Leader of the Council, and past holder of the Finance Portfolio, wrote an article recently referring to the Victoria Square project saying "council taxpayers are not paying for Victoria Square". She then went on the say "it will make money for taxpayers and it is forecast to return £255million on investment". Note the use of the present tense. Is that really the current March 2021 forecast?

In the interests of openness and transparency please can we see the details of this forecast?

  • Who calculated it?
  • Exactly when was it calculated?
  • Upon what assumptions was it made?

For example, was it calculated on the assumption that the scheme would cost the original £75m or the current £700m? Was it calculated pre or post Brexit, pre or post COVID, pre or post disaster in the Red car park? I am prepared to accept that no forecasts will ever be 100% accurate, but they should at least be based upon reasonable assumptions, made by someone qualified to make such forecasts and those assumptions should be declared for all to see so that we can judge for ourselves whether this a reasonable and credible forecast.

Risky Loans to Property Developers

The Conservatives are being frugal when it comes to the financial risks involved. WBC is borrowing huge sums from the Treasury (circa £1.5 billion) and is regularly lending it out to property developers. If the developers are unable to repay WBC then WBC will not have the cash required to repay the Treasury. WBC (ie all the taxpayers of Woking) will be at risk of having to find alternative means to pay its bills - borrow more money, if so from whom - or increase tax, car parking charges or shop rents - find a new magic money tree? The Treasury have removed the last magic money tree. These property developments are not risk free to the residents of Woking.

Why are the Conservatives hiding Financial Information?

Requests by Councillors from other parties, Lib Dems included, for information about WBC's finances have been met with answers such as "it is too complex to explain" or "the terms are commercially confidential". Answers such as this are at best condescending and only serve to increase the perception that the Conservative Leadership and Council Officials are hiding or being economical with the truth about important and significant information. This in turn begs the question - why are they hiding or obscuring it? Helping companies that have a close relationship with WBC should also be investigated.

Until we know the truth it is impossible for anyone to state with any certainty what needs to be done to stabilise WBC's finances, to determine if we can continue to pay for existing investments and to calculate how much we can afford to spend on future developments.

We need an Independent Audit of Council Finances

A Lib Dem controlled council will obtain a full financial audit and Statement of Affairs of all WBC's assets and liabilities including those of its many property development companies. Once we have this information we can at least begin to assess the options available and recommend a way forward. Residents might sleep better if they knew the finances have been fully assessed by independent professionals.

Cllr Graham Chrystie

Email: Graham.Chrystie@wokinglibdems.org.uk

Facebook: Facebook.com/PyrfordLibDems