WARRINGTON Borough Council has said it is committed to 'open and transparent conduct of our town’s finances.'

This comes amid the sale of a high-value Birmingham facility, of which the council has invested some £10million.

The sale is due to the facility's owners needing to pay back money to lenders, and Warrington Borough Council is set to recover just a fraction of its investment.

Today, Thursday, the leader of the council, Hans Mundry and new cabinet member for corporate finance, Cllr Denis Matthews met with Conservative Group leader Cllr Nigel Balding, and Cllr Ken Critchley, following the announcement of the possible sale of the Mailbox in Birmingham.

The council says it 'used cash reserves to purchase bonds in the successful mixed-use Mailbox development in 2021 when interest rates were low and following comprehensive due diligence.'

Warrington Guardian: The council has invested millions in The Mailbox, in BirminghamThe council has invested millions in The Mailbox, in Birmingham (Image: Maps)

Following funding cuts from central government, councils such as Warrington were encouraged to become more commercial; investing in property and businesses to achieve policy objectives and to generate additional revenue to offset cuts to their budgets.

A 'treasury advisory panel' was created within the council in order to receive detailed reports on current financial undertakings of the council - it says that members of all political parties are invited to attend.

The Labour group says that no Conservative members have attended any of the panel's meetings for the last two years.

Labour's Cllr Denis Matthews said: "Both I and the Labour Group are committed to open and transparent conduct of our town’s finances.

“The council provides full reports and regular updates, councillors are also able to access the support of officers should they wish to ask further questions.

“Unfortunately, the Conservative Group do not attend all of the meetings available to them, and in the last two years they have not attended the specially-created treasury advisory panel which receives reports on our investments.

“On Thursday, I met with Conservative Group leader Cllr Balding, and Cllr Critchley to discuss the council's investments.

“Recent press coverage has drawn attention to our investment and the possible sale of the ‘Mailbox’, a successful well-let, mixed-use development. The development continues to provide a revenue stream to the council after all costs have been paid.

“I can assure residents that Warrington’s finances are stable and balanced.

“Overall, our investment portfolio of things such as solar farms and property generates more than £20million in revenue, which is a surplus after all costs and interest payments have been paid.

“That is more than £20 million, going directly into the services residents rely on such as adult social care and children’s services."

Warrington Guardian: Cllr Matthews has defended the council's investmentsCllr Matthews has defended the council's investments (Image: Warrington Borough Council)

Cllr Matthews went on to attack the Government: “Since 2010 the Conservative Government has cut council budgets up and down the country, forcing them to make unimaginable decisions. 13 years of brutal Conservative austerity has been mitigated by our investment strategy, protecting our most vulnerable residents.

“I make no apology for our commitment to protect our residents and communities in Warrington.

“We continue our call on Cllr Balding and the Conservatives to attend all future meetings, including the treasury advisory panel.

“Additionally, I have asked him to write to the Conservative chancellor, calling on the Government to provide a fairer funding settlement to all local authorities improving on their inadequate and piecemeal offer earlier [last] week."

Responding to the statements from the Labour councillors, Cllr Balding said: "Cllr Critchley and I were pleased to meet with Cllrs Mundry and Matthews.

"We were able to briefly debate the areas of council policy and approach where we have had significant differences with the previous Labour leadership. We’ve been calling for changes and it was great to have the opportunity to discuss these in a constructive way.

“I wrote in advance to Cllr Mundry about [the] investment in Mailbox REIT plc and we still need to work through the implications in advance of next year’s budget.

"Labour’s statement described the Mailbox development as 'successful.' However, I think residents should be concerned about the success, or not, of the £10million investment in Mailbox REIT plc. This is a different matter, and the investment is currently showing a significant loss in value."

Warrington Guardian: Cllr Balding has questioned the council's investmentsCllr Balding has questioned the council's investments (Image: Warrington Borough Council)

Cllr Balding added: “The statement described the council’s Mailbox investment as 'bonds' and this would be usual for treasury investments where there is statutory guidance for local authorities to prioritise security.

"However, I have confirmation from the council that it did not invest in Mailbox bonds, instead it bought 11.79 per cent of the company’s ordinary shares, which are more risky.

“The Treasury Advisory Panel (TAP) was briefly discussed, as well as the Conservative Group’s decision to withdraw from this officer-led initiative when it was previously called the Treasury Management Board. We regard the TAP as inappropriate, and I will take up Cllr Mundry’s offer to talk more about our serious concerns and whether these can be addressed. 

“We discussed the forthcoming council budget for 2024-25 and advised on some of the options that we were recommending last year.

"The high levels of debt are putting the council at risk, as are the risky investments with questionable returns. However, we were able to outline some of the urgent changes that we feel could help the council avoid the bankruptcy that it is accelerating towards."

Warrington Guardian: The council says it has had to make riskier investments due to a lack of funding from central governmentThe council says it has had to make riskier investments due to a lack of funding from central government (Image: Supplied)

Cllr Balding concluded: “Conservative councillors have had their questions and requests for information blocked or ignored on many occasions over the last two years, so we were able to discuss openness and transparency.

"I believe that there is now an opportunity for change, and I’d like to think that there is room for optimism following this meeting.

"One of the first tests will be when we try to examine what went wrong with the £10million Mailbox investment."