DEPUTY leader Cllr Cathy Mitchell says the council’s risky property investments have protected residents from £8.5 million worth of cuts that would ‘really hurt people’.

The Labour-run authority has completed deals to buy Birchwood Park, Matalan, DW Sports, Pure Gym in the town centre, Eddie Stobart’s headquarters and Talk Talk’s former Stanford House site.

It has also bought Appleton House, where New Balance is the tenant, and Atlantic House, where Highways England is the tenant.

The properties boost income for the authority through rent.

The most expensive deal was for Birchwood Park at a cost of £211 million in September 2017 – with the business site bought offshore, which allows the council to benefit from lower taxes.

During Monday’s cabinet meeting at the Town Hall, Cllr Mitchell told members that Warrington has been ‘starved’ of Government funding since 2010.

She said: “This is what the Tories pursuing an austerity agenda looks like.

“The council would have simply passed on these cuts to frontline services.

“That would have had a significant impact, especially on our most vulnerable residents.

“This Labour administration was not willing to sit back and allow that to happen.”

Cllr Mitchell also reminded the cabinet that the authority can borrow money ‘very cheaply’, which can be used for its capital budget to fund property and infrastructure.

But she told them it is illegal to borrow money to fund the revenue budget for day-to-day running costs, such as salaries.

She said: “The council therefore borrows money to purchase investments, mainly property, which generate an income – a bit like buy-to-let.

“The money made by those investments can go into the revenue budget and can fund the frontline services, which residents value and deserve.

“Councils should not be making investments, I would agree – but then councils should be properly funded by Government.”

Cllr Mitchell confirmed the sites currently in the council’s property portfolio generate around £8.5 million in revenue a year.

She added: “If we weren’t doing this, we would need to be looking for £8.5 million worth of cuts and that would really hurt people.”

Cllr Rebecca Knowles, cabinet member for statutory health and adult social care, labelled the £8.5 million in revenue as ‘absolutely imperative’.

She also said the ‘sensible management’ of risk has to be weighed against the risk of vulnerable people not receiving the services they require.