Stevenage Conservatives defend election leaflet amid Labour accusations of 'blatant lies'
PUBLISHED: 06:57 18 April 2019
The Stevenage Conservatives have defended an election leaflet which says the Labour-run Stevenage Borough Council is "hiding millions of pounds of taxpayers' money in reserves" - after the town's Labour leader accused the group of "blatant lies".
The leaflet – sent out ahead of the local elections on May 2 – says an investigation by local Conservatives has uncovered a “massive increase” in the council's reserves while the Labour-run authority “complain they have no money”.
It says the council's own published accounts show that “total all useable reserves for Stevenage Borough Council has increased from £12 million in 2010 to a massive £58m in 2018”.
It goes on to say that this “shocking figure [...] could have been used to invest in our town and improved local services for our community”.
In response, Stevenage Labour issued a press release to the Comet which said the “claims that these funds are 'available' to be spent running services or reducing fees and charges is simply false”.
It continues: “There are many purposes for which 'ringfenced' reserves are held, including some which we are only allowed to use for certain spending. Spending like 'Right to Buy' housing receipts, which must be used as a 30 per cent contribution towards new homes, reserves for planned future investment in council housing, funding held for loan repayments on our council housing (which currently account for over £39m of 'ringfenced' reserves), and our regeneration reserve which is held to meet the spending priority to transform our town centre and neighbourhood centres.
“We are also required to have a minimum level of reserves in both our general fund and our housing account. Council budgets are not allowed to go in to a deficit position, so this minimum level reserve is required by our auditors to meet unplanned spending.
“Stevenage Conservatives' misrepresentation of our sound financial management is particularly appalling when considered in the context of the horrendous cuts in funding the council has had to deal with over the last few years at the hands of the Tory government. From 2019, SBC will receive no government grant funding at all, a cut of over £5 million since 2011.”
Stevenage Labour leader Ms Taylor added: “It is frankly appalling that Stevenage Conservatives thought they could get away with such blatant lies.
“Our council has been absolutely committed combining sound financial management with excellent local services, in the face of horrific cuts from the Conservative government.
“That the Stevenage Conservatives think they can spread this fake news without reproach, and without admitting that it's their own government cuts that are damaging our town, is a disgrace.
“I am proud of the excellent value for money Stevenage Borough Council provides, and know that the people of Stevenage will see through the Tories' false accusations.
“I look forward to a clear apology and retraction from the Stevenage Conservative Party.”
In the press release Labour claim that the returning officer for the elections – Matt Partridge – had requested the Conservatives withdraw this leaflet immediately, but the Comet has since confirmed with SBC that this request was made in Mr Partridge's role as interim chief executive due to the leaflet containing “factual inaccuracies concerning the council's financial reserves”.
In response, Town MP Stephen McPartland – speaking on behalf of the Stevenage Conservatives – said: “I have spoken with the returning officer and he has confirmed he has made no comment or request to withdraw our leaflets in his capacity as the returning officer. These are defamatory statements by the Labour Party and they must publicly apologise to us and the local community.
“The facts speak for themselves. The council's own published accounts show that total all useable reserves for Stevenage Borough Council have increased from £12 million in 2010 to a massive £58 million in 2018. A shocking figure that could have been used to invest in our town and improved local services for our community.
“For example, building new council housing to help with the shortage of homes instead of complaining there is no money. They could also be delivering a real regeneration scheme with new shops at the heart of it, instead of fancy new council offices. Instead, it is the same old Labour complaining, instead of investing in our community.”