Austerity in Luton or where is all our money?

Last week, 20/02, the sister newspaper of the Herald and Post, ran as its front page article a report on the continuing austerity in Luton, due to the cuts in the Central Government Revenue Support Grant.  The portfolio holder for finance quoted how savings are still needed and budgets need to be scrutinised to maintain them.  Another Councillor mentioned the huge shortfall on adult and children’s social care and the Special Needs Budget.

Then look at the Councils’ accounts, you see that since 2010/11, the Support Grant has been cut from £104 million, to just £15.9 million in 2018/19.  Faced with cuts of that scale a word of thanks is in order to the staff and officers who actually keep our services at the levels they are, and what an unenviable task they have.

Whilst looking at the latest published accounts, another figure may catch your attention, the Borrowing Requirement, which as of March 2019, was an eye watering £414,000,000.  A note points out that the vast majority of this was for loans to London Luton Airport Ltd, the Council’s airport company.

If you are intrigued by this, then looked at how much income the airport had brought residents

In that same time frame 2010/11-2018/19

Concession Fee Income£313,322,000
Tax paid on this£38,053,000
Charity Donations£109,101,000
Dividend to council

The remaining £72,459,000 we must presume has gone to servicing those loans and paying for Council services?  These figures would appear to show that rather than the airport funding the town, the town is funding the airport?

A little more digging alarmingly shows more borrowing requirements on behalf of the airport company. 

The second funding package for the DART transit link is still outstanding at £125,000,000. 

The Terminal 2/New Century Park access road is awaiting a business case for funding of £124,000,000. 

The ongoing Direct Consent Order process for airport expansion is estimated at £50,000,000.

 Some of this figure may already be part of the current requirement?

The first two projects mentioned would take the Borrowing Requirement to a staggering £663,000,000, predominantly on airport projects, with about 75,000 households in Luton, that’s £8,840 of debt, each family.

Many on our committee are born and breed, lifelong residents of Luton and while we send our gratitude to the Council staff who keep our services running in the face of what little finances they have at their disposal. 

But to the Councillors and Officers who have proposed and condoned such reckless and irresponsible borrowing, whilst making those staff question every financial choice they make, we say it’s high time you realised just who you are meant to be serving – and where exactly the money you have, is most needed?

Based on a letter published in the Luton Herald & Post, 20 Feb 2020

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