Council slammed for �45million building spend when services could be cut

A COUNCIL has been criticised for borrowing �45million to buy the freehold to two properties, when it is currently looking to make significant savings through services. Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) last week bought the freehold to Farnham House and

A COUNCIL has been criticised for borrowing �45million to buy the freehold to two properties, when it is currently looking to make significant savings through services.

Hertfordshire County Council (HCC) last week bought the freehold to Farnham House and Robertson House on Six Hills Way in Stevenage. It had previously been renting these properties, which provide office space for 1,600 council staff.

The expenditure was not in the Conservative-led council's budget so the money has been borrowed over a 20-year period, at a four per cent variable interest rate.

The purchase comes three weeks after The Comet reported that HCC plans to make significant savings - rumoured to be �6m over the next three years - and that fire service staff have already been asked for ideas on how their service could run more efficiently. A spokesman for HCC said at the time: "There are tough financial times ahead. We know we will have to find ways of saving money."

Matthew Hurst, Conservative county councillor for Stevenage, said the purchase will cost �5million less than renting the properties over a 20-year period. He added: "We will then have the properties as assets, which are estimated to increase in value by at least �5million - all of which represents good value for the Hertfordshire tax payer."

But Lib Dem county councillor for Stevenage, Robin Parker, called it "a gamble with taxpayers' money." He said: "Decades in the future they are saying there could be a return, but undoubtedly there will be unforeseeable costs to do with these buildings. I think, at this time particularly, we should be protecting taxpayers' money and not spending it."

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Labour county councillor for Stevenage, Sharon Taylor, is more positive. She said: "I'm very pleased to see in this current economic climate the county council securing several hundred jobs in Stevenage for the long-term future."

However she said: "We will want to look very closely at the financial impact of this purchase, to ensure there are not going to be any adverse affects on services provided in Stevenage.

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