In the run up to the May local elections, each week, we will be showing you the damage done by the Tories to councils across the country. We’re kicking this off with a focus on Tory-controlled Torbay council, in Devon.
When many people think about Torbay, they think of the English Riviera. Great weather, beautiful beaches, idyllic countryside, and a great place for tourists. Indeed, they would be correct. But what holidaymakers don’t see, is the total mismanaging of the area, by the council, which has led to them to cut all non-urgent spending. This isn’t an isolated incident. The Local Government Association have estimated that from 2010-2020, local councils will have faced £16billion in funding cuts. This amounts to a loss of 60p to every £1 of funding.
With the news that Torbay council was to cut back on spending, after having signed off on £10million in savings, it was then announced a further £4million in cuts would have to be made. Over the last 7 years, Torbay has faced a total of £76million in cuts, imposed by the Tory government. Worrying times, for residents of Torbay. However, the council reassured residents, that they would be attempting to increase revenues. But not by investing in the local economy, or increasing appeal to tourists however. No. Torbay council had other plans – investing in property outside of Torbay.
According to the property portfolio on Torbay council’s website, they have spent £158.8million on properties across the UK. £17.2million on offices in Dorset. £20.9million on a laboratory in Oxfordshire. £6.3million on a Travelodge in Chippenham. And most infamously of all, £2.9million on a Pasty factory, in Cornwall.
2 Lib Dem councillors say they have been the victims of an attempt to silence them, after they drew attention to a speculated £15million investment by the council, on an Amazon warehouse in Exeter. They were told a complaint had been made against them for disclosing confidential information – despite it already being in the public domain.
If they are truly as cash-strapped as they claim, why are they spending such large amounts of money on property outside of Torbay? Would it not be better spent on property in the local area, to help boost the local economy? Maybe more housing? That would certainly be welcomed, given that, according to charity Crisis, there has been nearly a five-fold increase in homelessness in Torbay, from 2013-2017. That figure will undoubtedly be higher now, accounting for the roll-out of Universal Credit, and the fact that people who are not rough sleeping weren’t included in the figures. 300 Torbay families are currently facing homelessness, largely due to private sector evictions
Torbay council have a pretty sketchy record when it comes to homelessness. Just last month, it emerged that they had told a young woman sleeping rough, who had severe mental health issues, that she was “resilient enough” to cope with living on the streets.
The council also made headlines when it took a man’s temporary accommodation away from him, as he lay in a coma, because they deemed he had made himself “intentionally homeless”. It also evicted a homeless charity from it’s premises, and removed coats left out by another charity, for the homeless, and gave them to charity shops.
Their poor record on homelessness is made even more ironic, given figures in the Guardian (in 2017) showed 39% of Torbay councillors owned multiple properties – with one councillor even raking in £63,000 in housing benefit payments for tenants over 2 years. 3 Torbay Tory councillors, including the Mayor, owned a combined total of 68 properties. 6 councillors rent out a total of 19 properties in some of the Bay’s most deprived areas – which ranked in the bottom 10% of the country for living standards.
Currently, Torbay has half the level of social housing compared to national averages – meaning that those on the lowest incomes are forced to seek rentals in the private sector. However, plans by the council to deliver more affordable housing was shelved, at the end of last month.
But that isn’t all the council have been criticised for. Devon Live broke the news in November 2018, that Torbay council had spent nearly £180,000 to stop ex-staff members making claims against them. 17 compromise agreements had been made between 2016-2018, which are usually issued when employees made redundant or facing workplace issues leave.
Additionally, just last month, a senior Tory councillor criticised his colleagues, after not a single person (aside from himself) bothered to turn up to discuss a new policy to help disadvantaged children. The council also plan to cut £1.3million from local schools.
Embarrassingly, the council also wasted thousands of taxpayers’ money, when they planted palm trees in Torquay – which promptly died in the cold weather. In 2014, £11,000 was wasted on just one tree.
The Conservatives would have us all believe they are the party of financial responsibility. So why are the majority of councils in financial crisis Tory-run?