Proposals to borrow millions of pounds to fix Bucks’ broken roads have been put forward – despite council leader Martin Tett angrily warning they would put services protecting children at risk.
Councillors are demanding County Hall chiefs look seriously at borrowing as much as £50m, arguing that interest rates are currently low and that the capital would enable quality, long-lasting work on the roads.
The cross-party finance, performance and resources select committee voted six to one to demand cabinet considers the ‘principle’ of prudential borrowing – without naming an exact figure.
According to Lib Dem Steven Lambert, Conservative Mr Tett then walked up to UKIP’s Alan Stevens – the only one to vote against the proposal – and told him he was the ‘only sane man on the committee’.
The comment is not picked up on the webcast of the meeting, but Mr Lambert can be heard stating: “I’m a bit offended by what the leader just said to a member of this committee.”
The webcast is then abruptly paused before being resumed with microphones ‘back on’ but it is understood that members of the committee – including those from his own party – were furious over Mr Tett’s commment.
When contacted by this newspaper he did not want to comment as ‘it was a private conversation with Mr Stevens’.
The leader had warned the committee that ‘prudential borrowing’ would put other council services at risk, particularly those for the vulnerable, which he reminded them the council had made its top priority.
He told the committee: “You have to understand the impact of any recommendation upon all other services and not just roads.”
He said a £50m loan would cost the cash-strapped county £5.8m every year for 10 years in repayments. “I have no idea, absolutely no idea, where we would find that money.”
Mr Tett added that given the implications of the decision, it would be for all majority group members (ie Conservatives) to give a steer to cabinet at a special meeting.
“Majority group members would have to accept responsibility for the implication of this sort of recommendation if it was put forward and accepted.”
A report to committee said that if the investment ‘is properly targeted, it will significantly extend the life of the current highway assets and reduce maintenance costs. Indeed, over the long term (25+ years), the investment should be repaid by savings on short term maintenance costs’.
Earlier this year Mr Tett only narrowly survived a Conservative leadership challenge from Peter Hardy, who was standing on a platform of prudential borrowing.