Political row as Middlesbrough Council consider selling off buildings to avoid bankruptcy

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A political blame game has broken out after officials at Middlesbrough Council announced they were considering selling off buildings to address a financial deficit.

The town hall is one of the buildings to have been called into question while public charges could also be raised as the council seeks to address the problem.

A report given to the council's executive board has forecast an overspend of £8.5million for the second quarter of the year and the authority could be forced to issue a S114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy, if action is not taken.

Labour controls the council but has blamed the previous administration run by the Independent mayor Andy Preston for the current plight.

Labour councillor Theo Furness said: "Past administrations have let the budgets run wild, burn through the reserves and we're in the position after five months of being in control having to make these decisions.

"We have never wanted to make these decisions but we are having to make them due to the previous four years."

Middlesbrough Municipal Golf Centre is one of the buildings that could be sold off. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

However, the claim is strongly refuted by Mr Preston and those who worked closely with him. The former mayor claims he inherited a difficult financial position from previous Labour administrations.

In a statement to ITV Tyne Tees, he added: "The scale of ineptitude has been so great that I had to call in outside bodies to check the books and help us avoid bankruptcy."

His claims were echoed by Independent councillor Joan McTigue who suggested a past Labour house demolition was behind the problems.

"They decided to demolish hundreds of perfectly good houses in Middlesbrough and the cost was £50m," she said. "Had they not done that we would have saved £50m and we would not be in the situation we are now.

"So we inherited it from Labour."

Parking charges could be raised at the Zetland Street. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Middlesbrough's current plight is not uncommon with other councils like Birmingham, Croydon and Slough each left effectively bankrupt. The authors of a recent report say the whole system of local authority funding now needs to be overhauled as a result.

"We are seeing more and more well-run councils ringing the alarm bell and saying we too are going to be in this position if nothing changes," explained Jonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive of the Local Government Information Unit. "What we are looking at is not just poor decision-making in a handful of councils, it is a systemic problem with the way we fund local government."

Reacting to Middlesbrough's situation a department of levelling up spokesperson said: "Local authorities have seen an increase in Core Spending Power of up to £5.1 billion or 9.4% in cash terms on 2022/23. For Middlesbrough, this means its Core Spending Power is £167.6 million, an increase of £16.4million (10.8%).

"We continue to monitor pressures on all councils and we stand ready to talk to any council that is concerned about its financial position”.

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