COTSWOLD DISTRICT Council is “on the brink of going bust” due to more than four years of Liberal Democrat mismanagement, according to the Conservatives.

The Tories say that when the Lib Dems took control of Cotswold District Council (CDC) in 2019 they inherited a financially sound and well-run council with £13.2 million of cash reserves plus significant property interests and other investments.

The district council’s figures suggest all their inherited cash reserves are likely to be exhausted in three years if the current rate of expenditure continues.

But the Lib Dem administration in Cirencester says the Tories are “twisting” council leader Joe Harris’ recent concerns over the financial challenges affecting the council like many across the country.

Deputy leader and finance cabinet member Mike Evemy (LD, Siddington and Cerney Rural) says councils of all political colours are facing a perilous financial position mainly due to funding cuts by the Conservative government in Westminster.

Tory group leader Tom Stowe (C, Campden and Vale) said: “After four and a half years of financial mismanagement and out-of-control spending, the Liberal Democrat administration is now reaping the consequences of its actions as it frantically tries to avoid bankruptcy while blaming everyone but themselves.

“They blame central government funding cuts for all their woes and cite the reduction in the Local Government Funding Settlement (LGFS) over the last 10 years.

“The LGFS is only a part of the funding available to Cotswold District Council – what the Liberal Democrat Administration fail to mention is that CDC’s core spending power which includes all of the revenue available to the council, including central government grants and other income streams has increased significantly over the last 10 years.

“Cotswold District Council has never had so much income available to it to deliver services to residents as it has now. So, what’s gone wrong? And how is it even possible that Lib Dem run CDC may follow Labour run Birmingham City Council into bankruptcy?

“It’s simple – the Lib Dems have been on a four and half year spending spree, the likes of which CDC as a small rural council has never seen before.”

Tory Cotswold MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has also criticised the Lib Dem administration saying they’ve wasted well over £1m of council taxpayers’ money on expensive external consultants, staff pay-offs, PR, self-promotion and publicity.

“On behalf of the residents of the Cotswolds I had to intervene at a national level to ensure that the Lib Dems’ reckless published plans to borrow £78m plus unsustainable interest, to spend on commercial projects were abandoned. Had this gone ahead the council would now be in even greater financial difficulty.”

Cllr Stowe claims the Lib Dems have opted to increase the share of council tax by the maximum each year to try to cover the costs of their “elaborate overspending”.

“Cllr Joe Harris isn’t satisfied with this and continues to call-on the government to allow him to increase resident’s council tax bills even further to fund his insatiable spending plans.”

“Due to their financial mismanagement and overspending, the Lib Dem Administration is now forced to make difficult decisions to save the council from self-imposed bankruptcy.

“The scale of these cuts is becoming clear and many services that CDC has funded for decades are being slashed or palmed off to town and parish councils.

“The flagship ‘Clean-and-Green’ team has been disbanded and despite public outcry the funding of visitor information centres has now been cut totally.

“This is crazy as the Cotswolds economy heavily relies on the tourist sector.”

Deputy group leader David Fowles (C, Coln Valley) believes no council service is safe as the Lib Dems desperately try to balance the books.

“CDC is now looking at the provision of public toilets and just last week announced they will not even answer the phone after 2pm in the afternoon,” he said.

The district council is due to publish its draft budget for 2024/25 and draft Medium Term Financial Strategy for the next four years this month.

“Residents will be consulted on it and will be invited to share their views on the council’s plans with councillors before they set the budget in February 2024.

Those proposals follow on from the announcement by its Cllr Harris, that the authority will need to make difficult decisions to balance its budget in the next few years and to deal with a huge forecast reduction in its grant from the Government of £3 million in 2026/27.

Cllr Harris warned his fellow councillors that the district council could go bankrupt in three years’ time like Birmingham City Council if they don’t get on and make difficult decisions to withstand future pressures.

Councillor Evemy says the issue is a national problem and asks where is the apology for the damage former Prime Minister Liz Truss and her chancellor did to the British economy and public finances last year.

“The Conservatives have twisted the leader’s announcement to suggest that the council is ‘on the brink of going bust’. That is not true,” he said.

“What is true is that councils across the country, run by councillors of all parties and none, are facing a perilous financial position mainly due to reductions in Government funding, inflation and increasing demand for services.

“Conservative-run Hampshire and Kent County Councils, widely seen as well-managed authorities, have been publicly named as close to the financial edge. This is a national problem.

“Cotswold Conservatives ignore this and repeat their criticisms of the Liberal Democrat administration that they made during the district council elections in May when local residents decisively rejected them – re-electing the Liberal Democrat administration with an increased majority and reducing the Conservatives to just nine councillors out of 34.

“Yet again, their MP seems to feel it’s his role to criticise Cotswold District Council rather than account for the failure of the Conservative governments he has supported.

“Where is his apology for what Liz Truss and her chancellor did to the British economy and our public finances?”