In late May Luton Borough Council (LBC) Leader Hazel Simmons sent an e-mail to many residents, detailing the financial effects of Covid-19 on Luton. Her message, somewhat strangely, opens with a statement pointing out that the devastating projected £49 million shortfall they face over this and the next financial year is not the Council’s fault. This would appear to infer that they have made some bad financial decisions in the past, and the fault doesn’t only lie with the Covid deficits.
Cllr Simmons mentions the savage impacts of Covid on aviation, and the Council’s airport company London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL), not being able to pass on any income – yet passenger figures were only affected in February and March of the last financial year. The airport concession income and subsequent dividend is calculated on the financial year April-March. This is despite the fact that the impact passenger figures for 2019/20 were still 300,000 up on the previous year.
That year brought gross income of £51 million, which presumably is what this year’s budget is based on, so cuts should be unnecessary until next year? She states that 50% of commercial income is from the airport, yet the accounts for 2018/19 show Revenue Budget Funding from the airport dividend at 10%; can they both be correct?
Cllr Simmons mentions a Council petition to Central Government for residents to sign to ask them for emergency and fair funding to the deficit. We are confused as to why the word “fair” is there. Since 2010 LBC have blamed austerity for all its service cuts.
In the same time frame they have poured millions of pounds of real money into highly speculative current and future airport projects. Is there a concern that this recklessness will count against them now, if Government decide that the emergency funding should go to the prudent and not the frivolous, hence the use of “fair”?
If this bailout is not forthcoming, painful solutions will need to be considered, which will drastically affect services, continues Councillor Simmons. The list of solutions does not mention the stopping of spend on the airport – all are Town Hall internal efficiencies.
There are many options for cuts in public-facing positions – all positions the residents of Luton rely on, or else they wouldn’t exist. There is no mention of cuts to employees who solely deal with the airport, and therefore have no public service value, and who, judging by their grand job titles, earn considerably more than the front line staff at threat.
There is no mention of stopping completely LLAL’s Development Consent Order process for airport expansion which is now no longer relevant. This process has already consumed £30 million, and now has to be rewritten, with – one can only assume – the same price tag. It has to be rewritten because basic fundamental starting points of legally-binding climate change targets were (it would appear) ignored by all those handsomely-paid airport staff and their appointed, very expensive but equally lax, expert consultants.
The message then has more of the increasing propaganda line that the airport and its growth is even more crucial to the town’s future prosperity. There is no mention of huge debts that currently have to be serviced for projects that have taken money out of budgets in equal measures as they have added to it, and have not helped with stopping the budget cuts we’ve seen the past decade.
Councillor Simmons then closes by inviting residents to make their opinions and ideas heard. They will all be considered, as long of course as they don’t involve stopping spending sparse resources on the airport and expansion.
Service cuts and hardships must not, and never will, be allowed to stand in the way of prudent airport investment.
Save vital services now, Stop Luton Airport Expansion