It would seem that the debate is still raging about transparency in the financing of airport-linked projects. Luton Borough Council (LBC) elected members continue to throw more words at each other, rather than just answering questions about their airport company, London Luton Airport Ltd (LLAL).
The Liberal Democrat group, quite rightly, wish the £60 million stabilisation loan for LLAL for this year to be debated and passed in the public realm. The majority Labour group however insist it should be done in private, to the point of seeking legal advice to ensure it is done so.
The Lib Dems state that without this loan, public service budget cuts now proposed by LBC would not be necessary. An LBC spokesperson replied by saying these comments are misleading and inaccurate and the Council refutes them. Borrowing undertaken for LLAL will not affect the emergency budget; when the Executive Committee meets to discuss this loan, its members will remember that this borrowing is secured against assets worth more than £840 million.
The spokesperson then adds that this year, these loans will deliver a positive income of £14 million as LLAL pays LBC an extra rate on the interest that LBC takes out on the loan. LBC then says that Luton owns the airport solely for the huge benefits it enables council members to deliver to local communities, and the positive impact that those benefits can make on people’s lives
Councillor Malcolm, the Labour Portfolio Holder for Finance, and Chair of the LLAL Board, then adds that the Lib Dem Group is financially illiterate or willingly misleading the public in an attempt to stoke political divisions in Luton. He states that whilst working hard to stabilise the Council’s finances, the opposition group are muddling up finance budgets to create that division. Councillor Malcolm then states the most galling thing is that the Lib Dems – when they sat on the LLAL Board – agreed to the projects they are now railing against
He closed by saying it is the most immature, misleading and worst form of politics. Fine words all round, but they really do butter no parsnips.
If the Labour majority really wants to stop any division within Luton, then why not simply have the debate on this loan in the public arena?
If the Labour majority are sure the LLAL loans make good business sense, why not then allow public access to all the Board minutes, and business cases for these projects?
If the Labour majority feels that paying off loans of this magnitude to gain a vastly smaller income of interest is the best financial plan, then why not allow public access to the thinking and decision process behind it
How will LLAL give positive income of £14 million on its loan repayments this year, when we’ve previously been told that it can’t even pay its Dividend for the next two years due to the collapse in passenger numbers, which has caused the proposed budget cuts in the town?
Will this new loan allow them to pay that figure whilst just adding to all the red ink?
The assets worth over £840 million on all these loans for LLAL is the airport itself, so if they default then the airport comes to LBC. The spokesperson stated that the reason LBC “owned” the airport was to benefit the town.
Could the Labour Majority please conclusively confirm that they are borrowing money for projects which – if those loans cannot be met – means they get the assets which it would seem they already own, but with still the debts to pay, unless they can actually sell that asset to recoup those debts? If the Liberal Democrat Board members of LLAL were voting compliant in airport projects, as Councillor Malcolm states, then public access to the minutes and voting records will confirm his statement.
Times are very hard, and are conceivably about to get much harder for the residents of Luton. It’s time for the playground name callings to end, and the elected members of all political persuasions in Luton to show they have their best interests at heart.
Let’s start with openness, honesty and allowing public scrutiny of all contentious issues regarding Luton Airport, and allow the town folk to make up our own minds?
Stop Luton Airport Expansion