Comment on Council investment in HUT Group
By Cllr Ian Marks - Finance spokesperson
Liberal Democrat Finance Spokesperson Councillor Ian Marks has written to the Warrington Guardian in response to last week's coverage of Warrington Borough Council's commercial investments.
Last week your paper contained several items about the Council's £200m investment in the HUT Group. This was a result of an article on the front page of the Financial Times and in several other national newspapers.
I am mystified why this story has suddenly hit the headlines. The investment has been in the public domain for several months and I questioned why it had happened in my Opposition Budget speech in the spring.
What surprises people is how the Conservative Government can allow councils such as ours to make investments in a company like HUT. Surely this is what a bank is for, not a council. The company is very successful and raised a considerable sum of money from a share flotation. It also surprises people that a Labour Council is investing money in a company where the boss is worth £2b and is a donor to the Conservative Party. He has chosen to ignore the corporate governance code by taking on the role of both chairman and chief executive.
Councils are being forced to make commercial investments because of drastic cuts in grants from the government. The Labour administration is at fault by not being clearer about what they are doing. By not commenting they give the impression of being secretive which leads people to think they have something to hide.
The Conservatives complain about all the deals the Council is doing but have failed to come up with any alternative method of safeguarding vital council services. Liberal Democrats support some of the Council's investments such as the solar farms, housing associations and regeneration in the town. However, we have repeatedly expressed our concerns about investments in Together Energy and Redwood Bank because we think the risks are too high. We are also critical of the time it is taking for the External Auditor to sign off the 2017/18 Accounts. All this unfavourable publicity does not do the reputation of the Council any favours.
Councillor Ian Marks
Liberal Democrat Finance Spokesperson