YORK’S council chiefs are sitting on a debt mountain of more than £116 million.

New figures have revealed City of York Council ended the last financial year £14 million more in the red than it was 12 months earlier and had to fork out almost £4.8 million in interest payments.

They show the authority’s debt has risen by £54 million in seven years, and come in the wake of the news it currently faces overspending its 2010/11 budget by more than £4 million.

Its debt position was outlined to the council’s Labour group by finance officers, with the figure standing at £116,064,956 at the end of the 2009/10 financial year, compared with £62,064,956 in March 2003.

Labour group leader Coun James Alexander said: “The council’s debt now stands at more than £116 million and is already higher than the national debt of countries like Greenland. “Interest payments alone have reached almost £5 million a year, an increase of more than 35 per cent since the Lib Dems took over in 2003 and enough to build a first-class swimming pool within two years.

“People will be wondering why so much money has been wasted on the Barbican, which remains empty, and on the ftr bus, which increases congestion rather than reducing it. It really isn’t good enough and York deserves better.”

Interest payments on the debt reached £4.771 million at the end of the last financial year, up from £4.391 million the year before and £3.279 million in 2003. York’s Labour group has today launched its War On Waste campaign, which Coun Alexander said would “expose wasted spending and propose ways of reducing public expenditure in a fair way”.

But council leader Coun Andrew Waller said: “Coun Alexander fails to understand the way his party operated Government funding for councils when they were in power.

“In order to provide the resources for improvements to schools, roads and other public schemes, the Government required councils to borrow and factored the repayment into the grant to the council.

“They required the council to borrow £67 million to fund major projects and the way they set up the grants to councils takes account of the interest and loans. The interest and principal payments are covered by an increase in Government grant, and through this system in the period since 2003, we have paid off £33 million in debt.”

He said the borrowed £67 million included money for modernising schools and projects such as the new York High School and extending Canon Lee Specialist Art College, road safety, resurfacing and reconstructions schemes, the Monks Cross Park&Ride site and modernising York’s housing stock.

Coun Waller said, elsewhere in Yorkshire, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council had a debt figure of £549.19 million at the end of 2009/10, with their Wakefield counterparts in the red by £201 million. Also, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council was £258.7 million in debt.