By investing in assets, mostly in bricks and mortar, we have acquired debt – in the same way you would have debt when paying off a mortgage.
Our current level of borrowing is £1.7 billion, with the current value of our assets at more than £2.1 billion. We could decide to sell our assets, if we thought it was the right thing to do, but we would lose the benefit of the money generated from the assets. It would, however, mean that our overall borrowing and therefore debt costs would reduce.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that many of our investments directly generate income that we can use to fund vital services, which would otherwise need to be cut because we simply don’t receive enough funding. It’s absolutely vital that we do everything we can to protect those services, which some of our most vulnerable people rely on.
These include social workers providing life-saving care and interventions, environmental services keeping our streets clean and well-maintained, and preventative services that keep families together and offer support to ensure people are as happy, healthy and independent as possible.
How we invest
Imagine being in a job since 2010 where your salary was £20,000 a year. Year-upon-year you have had to take a non-negotiable pay cut despite the cost of living going up, and you now have an annual salary of around £8,000! It’s similar with council funding – we have lost the equivalent of 60p in every £1 of funding, and so, of course, have to find other ways to fund our vital services.
If you found yourself in the position where your own income has dropped by around 60%, you might choose to borrow money at a low rate to buy a property you can rent out. This rent could cover your mortgage payments, and you could then use extra income to fund other important aspects of your life – like buying food and keeping your car running.
If you wanted to, and the market conditions were favourable, you could always sell your property at any time and pay your mortgage off with the proceeds.
We are following a very similar model – where for example we are investing in assets and property that will generate income for us every year, but that we could sell if we needed to and receive one big lump sum.
It is this approach that is helping us to generate more than £20 million net every year, to plough back in to services people rely on.
We also know, however, that no investment we make is entirely risk free – but this is the same as making any investment in any walk of life. It’s about identifying and managing risks, and having the right processes in place to protect investments if things don’t go to plan.
Investing in Warrington’s economy
It’s important to note that our debt isn’t purely caused by borrowing to invest and create a return. A proportion of the debt we have is historic, and we have also invested in Warrington’s infrastructure.
During the last few years, for example, we have invested in Time Square, affordable housing, highways, schools, social care services, Warrington Youth Zone, street lighting and many other projects and services. This approach is one of the reasons why Warrington is experiencing one of the highest rates of economic growth in the country.