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Concern at council’s £224 million debt bill

By Fiona Reid

DUMFRIES and Galloway Council have built up debts totalling £224.534 million, as a result of borrowing for major projects, including Dumfries Learning Town.

Of that, £191m is long term and on a fixed rate, to be paid back over the next 35 years.

The figures were revealed at a council meeting in Dumfries on Tuesday, alongside the fact that last year the local authority paid £8.5 million in interest alone on the debts.

Commenting, Lochar councillor John Charteris said: “None of it is good news. In almost every case we are spending more money than we raise. We are receiving money and having to pay interest on it. All the time our debts are getting larger and larger – we are borrowing too much money and spending too much money and we are not going to be able to afford it in years to come. Some of this is up to 35 years time and it’s our children who will be paying it back.”

He called on the council to stop and think before planning any more major projects, adding: “It’s irresponsible the way we are going.”

And Castle Douglas and Crocketford member David James added: “It seems a shame we spend 7.6 per cent of our revenue on servicing these debts. I think the public would be happier if we did not have debt and lived within our means year to year.”

But depute leader Rob Davidson pointed out: “If we do not have debt, we do not have a capital investment programme.”

Meanwhile, there were assurances from finance officials that Dumfries and Galloway Council’s debt position is below average for its size and compared to other Scottish local authorities. And they stressed that repayments and interest rates are continually monitored. The report on debt also revealed that during 2017-18 there were borrowings for the Dumfries Learning Town project: “£32 million long-term borrowing was undertaken to fund the agreed capital programme, to replace maturing external debt, and to provide a level of certainty in the future and to lock into historically low interest rates.”

It was noted that the council uses PWLB as the primary source for long-term borrowing: it is a branch of HM Treasury and was set up to loan monies from the National Loans Fund to local authorities to support capital expenditure.

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