Two months have now elapsed since the closing date for council taxpayers’ submissions to Herefordshire’s LDF consultation exercise. Yet despite the marvels of electronic data analysis, officials remain resolutely schtum on what the public told them about roads, housing, jobs or hospitals.
So the sole bell-wether on which to rely must be Its Our County’s parallel survey, which attracted an impressive 571 responses. On the vexed topic of the Outer Distributor Road (ODR), more than 82% disagreed with the idea that £130-million should be spent on a single road.
Two weeks ago, the Hereford Times revealed that if push-came-to-shove (a ‘fall-back position was the Council Press spokesman’s slightly more elegant description) and the promised £27-million private funding for the Link Road couldn’t be raised, then the council would simply borrow the money.
It could, therefore, be assumed that Herefordshire Council’s blinkered cabinet members will go down the self-same route (cynical economists refer to this as the Viv Nicholson Syndrome) and borrow the £130-million needed to build the ODR, in the expectation that some of the money will ‘return’ via the government’s ‘new-build bonus’ (formerly known as Section 106).
So before the end of the current council’s term of office, we could all be in hock to the tune of £157-million. At current public sector borrowing rates of circa 3%, this isn’t such a huge burden: approximately £4,710,000 pa, or an annual commitment per county household of £78.50. Historically, interest rates have never been lower. But cast your mind back (if you are old enough) to 1980, when rates soared to a staggering 20%. What would that add to £157-million of borrowing?
One of the messages emerging from Davos in January was that the only certainty in the current economic climate is uncertainty. If European economies continue to flat-line, and a hike in interest rates is the only thing which will pick them up off the floor, how on earth would we service the debt Councillor Jarvis wants to saddle us with?