AN investigation has found West Dunbartonshire Council (WDC) borrowed more than £190 million in debt to other councils throughout the UK last year.

Figures released under Freedom of Information showed a combination of short-term and long-term loans making the local authority one of the top 20 borrowers in the country.

Working with The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Reporter can reveal the scale of borrowing totals £191.5m.

The loans were all summarised as being taken out, "to manage the organisation’s borrowing for capital investment and daily cash flows".

WDC took out a total of 31 short-term loans, six long-term loans, with the largest lender being Oxfordshire Council, who provided £17m to West Dunbartonshire.

According to UK Government figures, WDC also loaned £6m to other authorities in the third quarter of 2019/2020.

Council officials said borrowing from other local governments was a long-established practice. Interest rates on the 31 short-term and six long-term loans were mostly at historically low interest rates of one per cent or less. Some of the loans were for just 30 days.

Neighbouring Glasgow borrowed £182m in short-term loans for "cash flow", including £30m from Edinburgh City Council. They also loaned £5m in the third quarter of 2019/20 to other councils.

Local authority finances are constantly in flux, with money out to thousands of employees and utilities on council properties, while council tax, non-domestic rates, rents and government funding flow in. Those day-to-day changes all the short-term borrowing.

But while councils said such local loans were long-established, the value of council-to-council borrowing in the UK has more than doubled in the past five years to £11.9bn in 2018-19, according to the Bureau.

Their investigation, with the Financial Times, focused in particular on Thurrock Council in Essex. They were found to have borrowed £1billion from other local authorities to then invest in a solar energy farm 120 miles away in Swindon. Thurrock is not mentioned in any data for WDC.

Council bosses said the loans helped ensure their investment in schools, care homes, housing, roads and lighting improvements, new offices and sports facilities.

A spokeswoman for WDC said: "These projects will improve West Dunbartonshire and the lives of the people who live here for generations to come.

“The investment has been undertaken carefully as part of a 10-year capital investment plan, approved by council.

"All borrowing has been planned and agreed as part of this strategy and the council’s long-term financial plan fully supports the arrangement and repayments required.

"All of these details are reported to committee twice annually in the prudential indicators and treasury management strategy updates and the papers are readily available to the public via the council website.”

Labour Councillor David McBride, who was part of the last council administration, said: "Borrowing is a matter of routine for all councils. We take investment advice from our external treasury advisors who monitor money markets.

"We borrow to invest and we repay loans on a regular basis - sometimes we pay them off early and other times the loan will run its full course.

"The cost of borrowing for short term loans is lower than for longer term loans with significant savings for the council on loan interest."

He added: "More government funding for capital spend would assist with new projects and infrastructure and therefore less borrowing. While less repayments would assist with day-to-day revenue, capital borrowing is normal."

The Bureau pointed to 10 years of austerity forced on local authorities as a reason for increased borrowing.

Maurice Golden, Conservative MSP for West Scotland, said: "It is startling to see the millions of pounds being spent by local authorities across the West of Scotland in terms of borrowing and lending from each other.

“We shouldn’t be surprised though because the SNP have been cutting council funding to the bone for years.

“The SNP have forced councils into the position where they are having to put out the begging bowl to each other in order to sustain finances.

“The UK Government has boosted the Scottish budget, so the SNP have no excuse for this. It’s time the nationalists gave our councils a fair deal.”