Owl has received this exhaustive and fascinating investigation into council funding.
Interested viewers will probably want to follow up the list of links. Especially the link at the bottom of this post to the post code searcher (though that appears at the very bottom of the linked web page – gives interesting results)
Council borrowed £1 billion from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine
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, 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.
👉 Read our investigation, here (https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2020-05-22/thurrock-council-borrowed-1bn-from-taxpayers-to-bet-on-british-sunshine) and the additional work of our national partner, the Financial Times, here (https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2020-05-22/rockfire-capital-a-private-firm-playing-with-public-money) and help us share the piece, here (https://twitter.com/bureaulocal/status/1263719825236426752)
👉 Take part in the investigation by accessing our reporting recipe, here (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1vbtpFLNk2lFQh5jPl9Ko_w8l-IloZ-WzHabPrFpFcjk/edit) and joining our #LocalPower channel in Slack (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ys_Jw6OojOn4myorj-K3TSq9Gugc6flS_znZ8fHBznw/edit)
👇 Find out if your council lent money to Thurrock by accessing our postcode searcher in the story, below