St Helens councillor's figures mix-up in defence of investment strategy

Councillor Marlene Quinn
Councillor Marlene Quinn

A senior cabinet member has fiercely defended St Helens Council’s investment strategy for the second time in a week.

However, just seven days after ordering the press to “report facts” over its coverage of the issue, Labour’s Marlene Quinn mistakenly provided inaccurate numbers.

At full council, Coun Quinn provided a detailed explanation of the strategy, which is part of treasury management.

This is a fund-raising effort that sees the local authority lend millions of pounds from its reserves to councils and financial institutions around the UK.

Armed with a report on the investments, Coun Quinn said the council is set to rake in half a million pounds in interest from just £61,700 by the end of 2019-20.

Based on the figures Coun Quinn provided at the meeting, which was broadcast live, the council is due to make more than eight times its overall investment.

However, St Helens Council has confirmed Coun Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care, meant to say the local authority is set to make £500,000 in interest from loans totalling £61.7m.

“Now that is why we make loans,” Coun Quinn said, not realising her error.

“We have to keep balances because the district auditors tell us we must, and we’ve got to protect the risk.

“But we make short-term loans and we get interest in. And that is how we work within local government. To make some money on short-term loans, not putting our services at risk.

“And if the press would like a copy, I’ll give it to you because I’m proud of this.

“This is half a million pounds that could go into children’s services. It could go into parks. It could go into street cleaning. It could go into adult services.”

Coun Quinn said the council would not have seen the extra funds if council officers had not invested “wisely” within the code of borrowing and lending procedures the council has adopted.

“So, I thank our officers for that wise judgement of investment,” Coun Quinn said.

“And I will ask all members to just remember when you criticise the council be very careful.

“Some councils may warrant it – this council doesn’t.”

In response to Coun Quinn’s comments, Conservative leader Allan Jones accused Coun Quinn of being a socialist who is “proud of capitalist policies”.

Fellow Tory Rob Reynolds also criticised Labour, saying there was a “serious cultural problem” within the ruling group.

Coun Reynolds said: “This council has 48 members, 41 of whom are Labour. And yet they clearly hate that there are even seven opposition members.

“We’ve just heard how much they hate the local press reporting obvious facts in a very straight and calm and reasonable manner.

“This is part of the problem with St Helens Council. We have a serious cultural problem.

“We’ve seen its effects in recent weeks and months.”

Coun Quinn’s comments come after she accused the press of “not reporting the actual facts” during a cabinet meeting.

In an imapassioned speech, Coun Quinn insisted the council was not a “loan shark”, in response to a 2018 news report that shed light on a prudent campaign of lending to other councils and a host of financial institutions.

A detailed explanation from St Helens Council about its investment policy, which is standard practice among local authorities in the UK, and the reasons for doing it was published in the original article.

This included the fact that investments had been made to reduce the impact of central government funding cuts, which will total £90 million over the last decade by 2020.

At no point in the original report, which was published via the Local Democracy Reporting Service, was it said or inferred that the council was a loan shark.