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Revealed: High rates on £115m in old loans to Walsall Council

Walsall | News | Published:

A Black Country council has at least £115 million worth of old loans at high interest rates, an investigation has found.

Walsall Council took out the loans with banks a decade ago when interests rates were significantly higher - and the rates have not been dropped.

The authority's leader Councillor Mike Bird said staff were working to re-negotiate the deals.

Experts estimate the council, which is slashing jobs and cutting services to balance the books, could have saved £1 million a year taking the loans today, while base interest rates are at an historic low.

Channel 4's Dispatches programme said a £15 million loan from Barclay's taken out in 2003 would have made the bank £1 million in profit on the first day.

Meanwhile Walsall Council has now been forced to axe almost 200 posts this year in a bid to save £29m in the wake of cuts in government funding.

Thousands of workers could see their hours reduced as the cash-strapped authority looks to claw back money.

The old loans are called Lobos - 'teaser rate' loans standing for Lender Option, Borrower Option.

But in a statement Walsall Council said that through 'prudential lending management' 'the council has made savings of over £3 million, funds directed into essential frontline services'.

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It added: "Walsall Council is entirely happy with the use of Lobos."

Councils borrow money to fund 'capital' projects, such as new buildings or major refurbishments.

Councillor Bird said: "When we took these loans out these were preferential rates at the time.

"We're looking to pay off the loans and then borrow again at a cheaper rate.

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"I have absolute confidence in our finance team to get the best deal for Walsall taxpayers."

Lobos work like fixed rate mortgages. But councils have to pay very large exit fees to move to a better deal and the lender has the option of raising the interest rates at regular intervals.

Documents on the loans were released under the Freedom of Information Act to campaigners from Debt Resistance UK. Many councils across the country have yet to respond or have refused to reveal their own Lobo arrangements.

The documents show Walsall Council took out a £15m loan in 2003 from Barclays, payable over 40 years. It started out at 4.45 per cent per year interest but in 2008 went up to 4.8 per cent.

Another £20m loan from Barclays was given in 2004, this time at 3.5 per cent interest to start with, rising to 4.8 per cent in 2006.

In 2006 Barclays loaned the council a further £5 million for 60 years at 3.55 per cent per year interest.

There was £15m in 2004 from Deutsche Pfandbriefbank, payable over 50 years with interest charged at 4.95 per cent. In 2011 it received an invoice for £370,232.88.

In 2004 Danske Bank in London loaned Walsall Council £15m. The interest rate started at three per cent per year then increased to 4.95 per cent. The loan was to last until 2054.

And there was a £5 million loan in 2003 from Dexia Credit Local, paid at 4.25 per cent interest for the first four years, then 4.75 per cent afterwards.

A further £10m loan was granted in June 2005 from Dexia Credit Local. It started out at 3.85 per cent a year interest for 18 months then rose to 4.8 per cent, payable over 60 years.

The council had a £5 million loan in May 2006, again from Dexia, payable by November 2021 at 3.99 per cent interest per year.

Later that year Dexia loaned a further £5 million, payable over 60 years at 3.75 per cent interest per year.

From the same bank there was another £20m loan in March 2007, payable by April 2077 at interest of 4.9 per cent per year.

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