Borrowed from ratepayers, strictly speaking. But there seems to be something rotten here anyway. Are solar farms an ‘investment’ of public money? Even if they are, they have an unfortunate reputation for going bust in some cases.
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A major investigation has revealed how Thurrock Council got into more than £1billion in debt, borrowing the money from around 150 local authorities across the UK, reports The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF).
But instead of funding council services, the council gambled at least £604million in solar farms located outside of the borough.
Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.
Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.
Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities.
In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.
What neither Clark nor the council will disclose is which local authorities he borrowed from or what companies he invested in. To do so, they say, would harm Thurrock’s commercial interests and put off potential lenders.
However, an investigation by The Bureau has discovered the council has poured at least £74m, and possibly hundreds of millions more, into a single company, Rockfire Capital, whose financial model raises serious questions over how likely it is that the public money would be recovered in full if the business failed.
This revelation comes at a time when many councils’ finances have been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.
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