A Freedom of information request (FOI), submitted by Shepway Vox, to the Public Works Loan Board (PWLP) , a government organisation which lends money to local councils, shows that, including interest payments, the four super-council partners have, as of 31st December 2016, debts totalling a massive £553.33 million.
Canterbury has the largest PWLB debt owing £281.26 million including interest payments. Dover the second largest at £141.87 million including interest; Shepway third at £93million and Thanet fourth with £36million.
But according to former Thanet Councillor, turned blogger, Ian Driver, “the actual debt will be much greater as each of the four councils are certain to have taken out loans with banks and other financial institutions over and above their PWLB borrowing. Each of the four councils also have to service large pension fund shortfalls as well. We will be submitting Freedom of Information requests to the four super council partners seeking figures for their non-PWLB debts including interest payments and it wouldn’t surprise me if the total debt owed by Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet councils turns out to be in excess of £1billion”.
The huge super council debt is one of reasons why Ashford Borough Council pulled out of negotiations with Canterbury, Dover, Shepway and Thanet, with its Leader, Councillor Gerry Clarkson, reportedly saying he was concerned about the “financial woes” of the other 4 councils.
Said Driver, “if it goes ahead, the establishment of the proposed super council will be the biggest political change in East Kent since the local government re-organisations of the 1970s. The super council will be the largest district council in the UK, serving a population of over 600,000 people, this is twice the size of the average London council. Because of the scale and importance of the change the partner councils should be as open and transparent as possible about their respective financial situations and this should include the publication of full information about all their debts. Shepway Vox and I also believe that the super council is such a fundamental democratic change for the people of East Kent that there must be a binding referendum on whether or not it goes ahead”.