I am keen for your readers to discover that during the September 2020 full meeting of Cotswold District Council, the Lib Dem administration approved a policy which will allow our small district council to start behaving like a London based city hedge fund.

This policy will have dramatic and long-term financial consequences for Cotswold residents for decades and generations to come, as well as potentially seeing even more housing being built across the Cotswolds.

The Lib Dem commercialisation (or investment) strategy was approved and supported by the Green and Independent councillors, with only the Conservative group opposing the policy.

It has now been agreed that the Lib Dem administration can borrow up to (in my opinion a totally disproportionate) £54 million for social and affordable housing developments and commercial investments (despite the reality that Cotswold District Council has a net budget requirement of only £12 million per year).

For those of you who have seen the adverts on social media, you will know the District Council is now actively seeking land for housing development or commercial investments on a 25 to 50-year time horizon.

According to the council’s documents, the administration is looking for a yield (or return of investment) of only 2.5% each year.

Cotswold residents may be surprised to learn the Lib Dem administration has calculated this yield requirement based on the prediction that the council’s borrowing rate will remain below 1.7% for the next 50 years!

When the Lib Dems won control of the council in May 2019, they inherited a debt free council, and it was the second most efficient in the country with the 7th lowest district council tax.

The Lib Dems also inherited financial reserves of more than £33 million. Despite this obviously strong financial position, the Lib Dems justify the need for a commercialisation strategy because they argue they don’t have enough revenue coming into the council to fulfil their Liberal priorities and they are also worried about possible future cuts in government funding or a potential reduction in the new homes bonus.

As a result, the Lib Dems, Green and Independent councillors have approved an additional one-off budget spend of £350,000 to make sure their commercialisation policy vision becomes a reality.

The council is currently recruiting for two new senior council officers and plans to spend £150,000 on external consultants to help find suitable investments.

To put this sizable expenditure into context, the maximum (permitted by law) 3.88% council tax increase the Lib Dems imposed on Cotswold residents earlier this year added an additional £209,000 to council revenues.

Cotswold taxpayers should be prepared for another 3.88% rise next year as the administration continues to increase charges as much as they can across the board (car parking, green bin licences, council tax etc).

The Lib Dems have identified the types of long-term investments they are looking for, and these include commercial and retail property, solar power stations, electric vehicles and business parks.

However, the investments they are pursuing most enthusiastically are linked to the development of affordable and social housing across the Cotswolds.

I can tell you that our own district council is now actively looking at options to borrow money and lend it to a housing authority (or council company) to build more affordable and social housing in our Cotswold market towns.

As leader of the opposition Conservative group I pledge that we will continue to examine each and every investment opportunity and judge it on its individual merits.

We will proactively and co-operatively scrutinise and evaluate every commercial proposal and potential Lib Dem investment.

We will vigorously oppose any investment we think is reckless and irresponsible, but we will support any safe proposal which makes good financial long-term sense.

However, as the country is preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 and as there is massive uncertainty about the long term effects the virus will have on the way people live, work and play, I believe that October 2020 is just about the worst possible moment to embark on this huge speculative Lib Dem tax, borrow and spend campaign.

There is only one guaranteed outcome from this risky, disproportionate and speculative Lib Dem commercialisation strategy (during these uncertain COVID-19 times), if it does go wrong it will be Cotswold residents, business owners and taxpayers who will pick up the bill for decades to come.

Cllr Richard Morgan

Leader of the Conservative Group (Cotswold District Council)