Austerity and Luton Airport Expansion ….. or where is OUR money?

David Agbley, Waheed Akbar, David Franks, Tahir Khan, Andrew Malcolm, Amy O’Callaghan, Alan Skepelhorn, James Taylor, John Young….  A list of names that will mean little to you probably?
Until you put the word Councillor in front of them, then you may recognise your Ward Councillor?

These Councillors sit on the various committees of Luton Borough Council (LBC), and have the extremely difficult task of juggling financial budgets with their fellow Councillors, ensuring that the funding cuts imposed by central Government cause the least “hit” to the most needy in our community.

These particular Councillors also have another thing in common – they are the current sitting, or most recent, members of the board of London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL).   LLAL is the LBC Company that collects all the concession income from the operator of London Luton Airport.

Last month Councillors Franks and Skepelhorn (both of the Liberal Democrat Party) resigned from this board, stating that unacceptable legal restraints have been placed on them in that role.  This leaves the political makeup of the board as 6 Labour, 1 Conservative.  It is the LLAL board that decides, each year, what dividend to place on a share held in London Luton Airport.  All the shares in the airport are held by LBC, on behalf of the residents of the town.

These Board members know exactly where the shortfalls and budget cuts are occurring in service budgets, and have the power – by the Dividend they set – to meet all those shortfalls.  They chose however not to fill those deficits, and to continually pass on only a fraction of airport income to providing Council services to the residents of Luton.

One can only assume that they did this in order to use income to pay off the loans that LLAL Board ask Luton Borough Council to take out on their behalf, for airport infrastructure projects. The DART Link, New Century Park, Bartlett Place and Terminal 2, are all projects that LBC/LLAL are funding, and/or plan to fund – all with substantial loans, payable from that same concession income, over future years.

If Luton is suffering austerity (and as residents we know that it is) so how can this strategy be pursued, when Councillors have the opportunity to do so much more to alleviate poverty in Luton?

One name worthy of specific mention is Councillor Andrew Malcolm. He is the Chairman of the Board of LLAL. One might expect a person in this role to have a clear view of the policies of the LLAL board. He is also the portfolio holder for finance at LBC, and – again one might expect a person in this role to have a clear view of where finance is needed for the people of Luton.

So we have a Councillor who with one hat on, plans where to make the savings Central Government budget cuts require, while with his other hat, has the power to fill all those budget deficits, but chooses not to.   It would seem that Councillor Malcolm, and his colleagues, think that channelling real money into the pockets of commercial banks is more important than using it to fill the budget cuts that their electors face in Luton.

Is it reasonable to suggest, that – bearing in mind the current funding ratio – the airport aggressively growing bigger and bigger (and with the airport and LLAL also arguing aggressively for this to even further increase!), does not mean that the residents’ income will grow in proportion?

Is it reasonable to also suggest, that real investment in services is a better return than loan servicing to commercial banks?

Notes on the Airport Board councillors:
David Agbley (South Ward) Works as a Healthcare Scientist for the NHS – should be vulnerable to air pollution & respiratory disease statistics)
Waheed Akbar (worked for Children and Young People’s Trust Board)
Tahir Khan (involved in youth & community work) 
Andrew Malcolm (Chair, Airport Board, LBC Finance portfolio)  
Amy O’Callaghan (in Children’s Services Review, Overview & Scrutiny, Development Control)
James Taylor (Overview & Scrutiny, Development Control, E Luton Area Board), John Young (Leader of Conservative Group).

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