Conservative Dukes Ward Councillor, Sir Ron Watson, has now been able to learn more details concerning Sefton Labour Council’s decision to buy the Bootle New Strand Shopping Centre at a time when no-one from the private sector would entertain purchasing the centre as a commercial entity.
Sir Ron said “I have now discovered that the financial position is actually much worse than previous reports have indicated”.
The Council has taken out a loan which has to be repaid by the council tax payer over a 25 year period and the total repayment will be some £42.5m – in other words there is an additional £10m to be repaid which has not featured previously in the past.
Well before the pandemic The Strand was moving week by week and month by month during 2019/20 into a rapidly financial crisis and by the end of that financial year was on the verge of showing a deficit which would have occurred within a few weeks of the next financial year.
Members of the Council were assured time and time again that the purpose of the purchase was for the Council to make a profit on The Strand but we now face a financial position of a huge debt that will have to be borne in full by the council tax payer and no form of exterior funding will be available.
The last valuation of The Strand gave a figure of £14m and no-one has any confidence that subsequent re-evaluations will show anything other than an increased financial problem where we face the distinct prospect of having to repay £42.5m for something that is worth nothing.
The Labour leadership are now trying to shift their ground by claiming that the purpose of the purchase was for regeneration schemes and that the commercial viability was not a factor but this is in direct contradiction to assurances that were given time and time again as to the profit making incentive behind the scheme.
This has been the worst financial decision that I have come across in decades and Labour were warned time and time again that it was much too risky and now the evidence is there to sadly prove the point.
They are also trying to make comparisons with the developments in Southport that will take place due to the Government allocating a significant sum of money to the Town but there is no argument here at all because in every instance the schemes for Southport have the simple criteria that not one of them will entail any sort of ongoing financial commitment from Sefton council tax payers.
When you add this additional burden, which by any standards is huge, to the pressures that we already face the only hope must be that every effort will be made to encourage businesses to occupy what are so many empty retail units but to saddle the people of Sefton with a £42.5m debt for a structure that will be worth nothing in order to help a few people easily purchase a Gregg’s sausage roll is not good enough and at the very least merits an apology from Labour to everyone who will have to pay the price.