'We're not loan sharks' says St Helens councillor in attack on press

CounQuinn insisted the council was not a loan shark
CounQuinn insisted the council was not a loan shark
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A senior cabinet member has defended St Helens Council’s investment strategy and launched a surprise attack on the press.

Coun Marlene Quinn, cabinet member for adult social care, made the comments during a cabinet meeting with senior council officers present, along with one member of the press.

The Labour councillor gave an impassioned speech about how public officials are “abused and attacked” despite trying to make St Helens a better place.

She also accused the press of “not reporting the actual facts” of what the council does.

Coun Quinn then insisted the council was not a “loan shark” – a likely reference to a news report from 2018 that revealed the council had lent millions of pounds to other local authorities in an effort to raise funds.

Such investment strategies are used by many other local authorities, including neighbouring Wigan Council, and has been reported by the press.

“I think when reporters report they really need to report the actual facts of what this authority and others are going through,” Coun Quinn said.

“And also reporting on our balances and how we spend any of those balances, it’s very important.

“We’re not loan sharks, we make loans out of our balances for quick returns to build up more balances to deliver services.

“And I do wish that the press, the radio or whatever actually report the true facts of what the council does.

“There’s many, many members of our public out there that literally think we’re loan sharks, sitting on a fortune, cutting services to become loan sharks and property owners.

“And all we’re trying to do is make the town a better place, trying to do it under extreme pressure.

“All as officers, councillors and anybody, any elected member, MPs – whatever, get verbal abuse and attacks on what is happening.

“And the press need to sit up and listen, and report facts.”

The article that likely triggered Coun Quinn’s comments was published via the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) last September.

Information obtained via a freedom of information request highlighted a prudent campaign of lending to councils and financial institutions.

The investments included a £10 million two-year loan to Glasgow City Council and a £9 million two-year loan to Greater London Authority, both in 2014-15.

St Helens Council also issued an 11-day, £10 million loan to Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy in 2015-16.

And between 2013-14 to 2017-18, the council issued 71 loans to a variety of financial institutions including Lloyds, Barclays, Santander UK, Ulster Bank and the National bank of Australia.

At no time did the report – which carried a detailed explanation from the council about the investment policy and the reasons for it – state that the council was a “loan shark”.

The story was just one of around 500 factual reports relating to St Helens Council and other public organisations within the borough that have been published via the LDR scheme in the past 12 months.

The BBC-funded scheme was set up to ensure the work of those making decisions on behalf of communities receives adequate media scrutiny and coverage.

In St Helens, several reports have been published regarding local authority’s efforts to improve children’s services, following a damning Ofsted visit last summer.

Numerous articles have also been published on the progress of St Helens Cares, the council’s new award-winning integrated care system, which sits under Coun Quinn’s portfolio.

The LDR scheme reported on the resignation of Barrie Grunewald as council leader last April after a police investigation was triggered into allegations of a possible data breach.

And last week the Local Democracy Reporting Service reported on the botched ballot for the deputy leader of the St Helens Labour group, which was ruled ‘void’ by the regional arm of the party.

The LDR service service has also repeatedly reported on the financial crisis facing St Helens Council, which councillors say is a consequence of the government cutting £90m in funding since 2010.