The Isle of Wight Council has borrowed more than £19 million from the government to invest in property.
The figures have been revealed by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism as part of an investigation into council finances, which revealed some of the smallest councils in England have tied the future of their public services to the uncertainty of the property market.
Experts warn commercial property investments are volatile and if councils are financing them through borrowing, this could be even riskier.
However, Deputy Leader and Cabinet member for Resources, Cllr Stuart Hutchinson, said he tried to minimise all risks when deciding which properties to invest in.
The council contracts with Portsmouth City Council for fund management and acquisition services.
“There is a risk in everything but we look for high value property, occupants with strong financial standing, and in strong growth areas with good transport networks.”
IWC paid 24 per cent above the asking price
The Isle of Wight Council purchased two properties — both industrial units — one in Salford for just over £10 million, and the other in Kent for £8.6 million.
For the Salford property, the council paid 24 per cent above the asking price.
Out of the fifteen units, one does not have a tenant.
Tenants in the properties
Sitting tenants include We Buy Any Car, budget fashion brand In the Style and a vending machine company.
Other tenants include NRS Healthcare, which supply mobility equipment and disability aids, and Mettler Toledo which make metal detectors.
Since 2017, the amount borrowed by the council has increased by £20 million.
The council has also increased its reserves by 8.59 per cent.
Cautiously overseeing decisions
Cllr Hutchinson oversaw all the decisions and said he did so ‘cautiously’.
“The government has given us the ability to borrow up to £100 million and use it to purchase key investments that fit out detailed parameters.”
Turned down IW investment
The council declined the chance to invest in a property on the Isle of Wight, saying it did not match its criteria.
Cllr Hutchinson added:
“These are commercial investments. If a particular investment matches our criteria, we will buy on Island.”
Although the data surrounding the investments is within publicly available audit reports, Cllr Hutchinson said they should not necessarily be more visible on the council’s Website.
“We do not keep it a secret but we do not go out of our way to publicise it.”
Lowthion: “Dreadful decision”
Isle of Wight Green Party’s parliamentary candidate, Vix Lowthion, said,
“Plenty of investment is needed by the council in areas on our Island and they actively choose to borrow money to put elsewhere.
“£19 million could have gone far here in terms of a community energy company, efficiency savings, land for development and even a new floating bridge (that works)! Bringing jobs and income. But instead they borrow, speculate and invest elsewhere.
9.09: Comment added from Vix Lowthion
This article is from the BBC’s LDRS (Local Democracy Reporter Service) scheme, which OnTheWight is taking part in. Some additions by OnTheWight. Ed
Image: © Tax Rebate