Eastbourne Borough Council accused of ‘misleading’ media over reported £112 million debt
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Data released by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) in January found that the council owed £112,557,000 in long-term debt as of September 2023.
This was reported in several media outlets as its ‘total amassed debt’, which Conservative Group Leader for Eastbourne Councillor Robert Smart has called a ‘gross error’. He believes the council has ‘mislead’ media outlets by not disclosing the short-term debt and said he explained the error to Full Council six months ago.
According to Cllr Smart, a recent ‘corrected’ analysis, which includes this short-term debt of £67 million, brings the total to £181 million – which is reportedly the highest in East Sussex.
"It is extraordinary that this gross error has now been perpetuated through a BBC analysis and reported in numerous media outlets", he said.
“There is no repayment plan for this additional £67 million of short-term debt, but is continually rolled over. Further, any minor repayment of long-term debt is funded by even more short-term debt.”
However, Councillor Stephen Holt, leader of Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC), has said he ‘wholly refutes’ these allegations.
He said: “This Council has been subjected to a number of audits and independent reviews. The latest one, in April 2023, stated that: ‘our work found no major areas of concern and much to commend’ and that ‘the council grasped the improvement agenda with seriousness and purpose and has made significant progress’.
"Our position with regards to our current levels of borrowing is clear.
"The Conservative Government’s failure to tackle inflation has caused the cost of borrowing to skyrocket. It would be financially reckless to borrow long term when the rate of interest is so high. Our borrowing is also largely related to significant regeneration and housing projects.
"Projects that have brought new jobs, supported our local economy and provided new homes. I am proud that our Council is investing in our town. In addition, much of our work has brought empty properties into new use, providing accommodation for our families and reducing our costs.
“I have long stated that the system of local Government funding is broken – and this has been recognised by the Local Government Association and the cross party parliamentary select committee.
"There are record numbers of people requiring our help – which is due to the Conservative Government’s cost of living crisis pushing families to the brink.”
Cllr Holt recently warned that the coming weeks will ‘make or break’ local public services and said it is ‘unfathomable’ that calls to The Government for emergency funding have ‘fallen of deaf ears’.
It comes after he revealed to council leaders at Westminster that the council is spending 49p in every £1 of council tax collected on temporary accommodation for homeless people.
He added: "It doesn't get much clearer than that - our public services, the services that many residents rely on are on the brink without immediate government funding.”
"I will do everything – working cross party – to ensure Councils are funded appropriately, so that they can continue to provide the services our residents desperately need.”