Councils must publish assets, says Pickles

 
Golf course Golf courses are among assets owned by local authorities in England

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Councils must publish lists of their assets to show which ones can be sold instead of cutting services, the government says.

The coalition has produced a map of buildings and facilities belonging to 87 councils in England.

Among them are restaurants, pubs, golf courses, stadiums and an airport.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles urged a "good hard look" at assets. But the Local Government Association said councils were saving "millions".

The publication of the map follows several disputes between Whitehall and town halls about the impact of spending cuts outlined since the coalition came to power last year.

Manchester City Council was the highest-profile critic, arguing that the £109m reduction in its budget was "ideologically motivated".

But the government says it and other local authorities need to do more to cut waste.

'Way beyond'

The map shows more than 180,000 assets owned by almost 600 public sector bodies, including central government and councils.

Public sector assets are worth an estimated £385bn, with almost two thirds owned by councils, the Department for Communities and Local Government said.

Among the items on the map are 40 hotels, around 20 cinemas and one airport, in Southend, Essex.

Nearly 100 golf courses are shown, along with almost 30 sports stadiums, including those used by Swindon Rugby Club, Swindon Town Football club and Aldershot Football Club, and one sailing club.

Mr Pickles said: "We need to know, now more than ever, exactly what assets are publicly owned. The general public probably have no idea of the sheer scale and scope of property and land on the public sector's books. In many cases it goes way beyond traditional frontline services.

"I want the public sector to take a good hard look at what they own. By cataloguing each and every asset councils can help government find innovative new ways to utilise them, improve local services, keep council running costs down and save taxpayers' money."

'Smarter'

For Labour, shadow local government minister Jack Dromey said: "Councils have a duty to tackle waste and ensure the assets they hold deliver the best value for money for local people.

"However, nothing should deflect from the fact that the size and speed of the Tory-led government's decision to hit councils with deliberately frontloaded cuts has seen front-line services lost, cuts to charities and the voluntary sector and local jobs lost."

Under current rules, revenue generated from the sale of council assets cannot go into running front-line services or paying wages.

Peter Fleming, chairman of the Local Government Association's improvement board, said: "Local authorities are saving millions of pounds through smarter use of their assets.

"This includes gathering different council services together under the one roof to reduce building management costs and sharing space with other councils, public bodies and the voluntary sector."

He added: "The key issue remains that if the public sector is to find really big savings then Whitehall has to look at its own assets.

"Government agencies and the NHS must stop working in isolation and start sharing office space with each other and local authorities."

 

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  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 192.

    Now let me see, once we (the local tax payer) owned the water works and the sewage works. These were given away to the water companies who now charge us for their use!
    Once we (tax payers) owned the railways and the energy companies. We sold these off and now pay through the nose for an inferior service!
    Yes, list the assets and keep them. They might cut taxes. Just don't sell them!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 176.

    Forcing councils to list what they own does not mean they have to sell assets but it may mean that will look more closely at why they own particular assets.

    Councils should own assets that are relevant to their functions. So owning a golf course or swimming pool seems fine - but why do they own hotels?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 151.

    The move to ‘map’ local authority assets, although commendable, is regionally flawed and London-centric. It’s easy to see how selling off unused council buildings in London may yield a good financial return, but the same cannot be said of councils in less affluent regional locations. I work with facility and asset managers within thirty councils around the UK & the idea is seriously flawed.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 116.

    Absolutely yes the assets owned by local authorities must be on show. The Scarborough model of democratic public involvement in assets and spending is a real breath of fresh air in local democracy and how it should work. More of this please, remove the veils of secrecy councils love to shroud themselves in. It's our money we should know and have a say in how it's spent.

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 80.

    My local District Council, Breckland, has the lowest Tax in England. They own a lot of property and subsidise our services with the income from them. Are they supposed to sell off this property for a one off gain and then increase out Tax. I think not. As much as I agree with a lot the Pickles has said, this must be approached carefully. Council owned enterprises that are profitable MUST be kept.

 

Comments 5 of 12

 

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