CONSERVATIVES in Warrington are calling on the council's Labour leaders to resign amid a row over finances.

This comes after a letter was leaked last week which saw a Government minister express serious concern for the council's debt levels.

It is anticipated that the council will be in £2.3billion of debt by the end of 2026.

Warrington Guardian: Conservatives on the council are calling for the Labour leaders to resignConservatives on the council are calling for the Labour leaders to resign (Image: Warrington Conservatives)

Now, the council's Conservative Group is calling for the leader (Cllr Russ Bowden) and deputy leader (Cllr Cathy Mitchell) of the council to step down amid the row.

However the ruling Labour group says the investments are needed to keep services in Warrington running.

And they say want the full report releasing, accusing the Conservatives of using the leaked letter for political purposes.

Cllr Nigel Balding, leader of the Conservative Group, first called on the leaders to resign by proposing a motion of no confidence at an Extraordinary Meeting of the council last February, following the collapse of council-backed Together Energy.

A statement from Warrington's Tories reads: "[The council] has been rocked by a series of scandals highlighted by the Conservative opposition.

"The investment in Redwood Bank has been 'written down' by millions of pounds, while other shareholders have done rather well; the business case for the £65million planned investment in a solar energy park was riddled with mistakes. 

"The attempt to subsidise LiveWire CIC was against the competition rules; the attempt to 'novate' a huge loan to the founder of The Hut Group was seriously flawed - most recently Bloomberg press revealed that WBC has been investing in junk bonds."

Warrington Guardian: The Tories are calling for Cllr Russ Bowden - leader of the council - to step asideThe Tories are calling for Cllr Russ Bowden - leader of the council - to step aside (Image: Newsquest)

Cllr Balding said: "Warrington desperately needs a change of course before it is too late, and this is impossible with Cllr Bowden and Cllr Mitchell in charge.

"If they remain in position following the letter from the Government and the long list of their poor financial decision-making, then this will undermine the financial credibility of Warrington Borough Council.

"I and the Conservative Group call upon Cllr Bowden and Cllr Mitchell to resign."

The finance spokesperson for the town's Conservatives, Cllr Ken Critchley, added: "To now be in a position where the Government is being forced to intervene to bring some sanity back to the Council’s reckless plans is a huge indictment of the failed Labour policy.

"In many cases, this policy of borrowing to invest has resulted in high-risk low-return investments.

“It’s time for Cllr Bowden and Cllr Mitchell to own up to the folly of their financial strategy and resign - Warrington deserves better.”

Warrington Guardian: Cllr Mitchell has been heavily criticised by the Conservative oppositionCllr Mitchell has been heavily criticised by the Conservative opposition (Image: Warrington Borough Council)

Responding to the calls, Cllr Cathy Mitchell said: "In order to avoid cutting public services and to achieve objectives the council has made investments, the vast majority of those investments are secured on property, so could be sold to repay the money borrowed, if that was a good thing to do.

"The net effect of those investments is that they put £23million a year back into services.

"It doesn’t replace the income we’ve lost due to austerity, but it helps to save services that would otherwise be cut.

"Investments always carry risk, so some of the money generated by the investments is put into a reserve.

"We have also borrowed long-term at fixed rates when interest rates were low. Our investments have performed well, through Covid-19, the energy crisis and even after the Truss/Kwarteng mini-budget, which crashed the economy.

"The local Conservatives have an opportunity every time the council budget is set to put forward an alternative budget. They have failed to do so - why?

"Instead of offering plausible alternatives to the way that the administration does things, all we have seen from the Conservatives is the public trashing of our town.

"They send out press releases littered with errors, they leak confidential documents, they single out local businesses for criticism.

"We have not heard a positive idea from them, just negativity and moaning."

Regarding the leaked Government letter, Cllr Mitchell said: "We were recently sent in confidence the draft report, together with a political letter from the Conservative minister.

"The minister sent both in confidence, expressing that they were not to be shared without Government approval.

"The council has asked for the report to be released as we would like for it to be in the public domain.

"The Conservatives are using the leaked political letter - not the draft report, and the council has fully responded to the leaked letter."

Posting on social media, Cllr Russ Bowden said: "Warrington Conservatives have failed to: offer an alternative budget, be straight with residents on their alternative, campaign for fairer funding, tackle the social care crisis, defend public services or simply fight for the interests of Warrington.

"They should all resign."