Spelthorne Borough Council's £1.1bn property spending prompts review

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Image caption,
Spelthorne Borough Councillors voted for more transparency in any future purchases

A council has reviewed its spending policy following an inquiry into its property portfolio worth more than £1 billion.

Spelthorne Borough Council, in Surrey, has built up its portfolio since 2016 funded entirely from government loans.

Councillor Ian Harvey, the former council leader behind the spending, said: "It was the right thing to do."

The council voted last week for more councillors to be involved in any large future investments.

Spelthorne Borough Council's acquisitions include a BP research centre and BP headquarters for £385 million; three office blocks bought for £285 million; and a development in Hammersmith costing £170 million.

Mr Harvey added: "We didn't do it in one go. It was something we built up over three or four years.

"Given the very stringent cuts we were facing from 2014 to 2018, we needed to do what we could to protect our residents."

Image caption,
Former Spelthorne Borough Council leader Ian Harvey defended the purchases

The property portfolio, worth £1.1 billion, is 100 times more than the council generated in revenue between 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, the council's current annual budget is £20 million.

A House of Commons Public Accounts Committee published a report into council spending in July and found SBC's borrowing had been "excessive".

The reported also stated there had been failings in transparency ,with decision-making by small groups, and inadequate scrutiny.

'Not acceptable'

During the full council meeting on Friday, Councillor Lawrence Nichols, chairman of the audit committee, pointed out Spelthorne was mentioned seven times in the PAC report, as reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

He put forward a motion for more councillors to be involved in any large future investments; for information on them to be shared with everyone on the council; to establish risk parameters; and make the property portfolio more transparent.

"We cannot allow the old ways to continue, it's not acceptable," Mr Nichols said.

"We need to demonstrate we can listen to external voices, take on the messages and act to effect change that is needed."

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