Cllr Ann-Marie Barker, Leader of Woking Borough Council, said: “On Tuesday, I received a letter from the Minister of State for Local Government, Paul Scully MP, in relation to Woking’s high level of debt which resulted from borrowing that my administration inherited to deliver housing, sustainable energy, regeneration and major long-term infrastructure projects.
“As I said in my Leader’s speech to Council back in May, I am committed to openness and transparency. I shared the first letter the Council received from government in relation to its overall levels of borrowing. I insisted we let people know what was happening. I continue to keep the public informed as we progress through dealing with the Council’s finances.
“I am pleased that in his letter the Minister has recognised the constructive and cooperative approach the Council has taken to its work with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), and the productive engagement between Woking Borough Council and Surrey County Council to provide additional support from within local government and through our local partners.
“I welcome the support and additional advice from an independent review into the Council’s finances, investments and related governance that has been offered on a non-statutory basis.
“Prior to taking control of the Council we initiated a financial review that highlighted the risks faced and the challenges ahead.
“Since gaining control of the council in May, my administration has worked to assess, and understand the level of debt and to take preventative actions, such as reviewing the escalating cost of the Victoria Arch project, to prevent worsening debt levels. We are reviewing the funding of the Victoria Square development and how we work with our Thameswey companies.
“Through our Medium-Term Financial Strategy, review of council assets and the arrangements we are putting in place around company governance, we are already taking prudent and responsible steps to get the Council’s finances on a sustainable footing over the medium-term.
“Council officers have been working collaboratively with DLUHC to assist them in understanding our local borrowing and investment practices. Officers have provided DLUHC with an extensive amount of information and responded to all their requests.
“To strengthen these measures, officers are in discussions with Surrey County Council’s finance and commercial team to assist us to develop an improvement plan that, over time, will deliver considerable change to how the Council funds its investment strategy, reducing our reliance on borrowing and attracting private investment into the borough.
“It is however clear that difficult decisions will have to be made and significant financial challenges lay ahead. My administration has taken decisive early action and is committed to ensuring that our financial position is resilient, affordable, responsible, and sustainable and I will ensure that that residents, businesses, and community partners are kept fully informed throughout the duration of this process.
“Council Officers are liaising with the Minister’s Department in respect of the practicalities of delivering the independent review into Woking’s finances and the timescales this will be managed within.
“I remain committed to keeping residents informed and will issue further statements on the progress of the review as and when it is available from the Minister’s department.”