Local authorities in England are sitting on £800bn worth of the strangest assets – pubs, golf courses, cafes, stadiums, even an airport. And Communities Secretary Eric Pickles says they need to be better managed.
Not like him to be so wet. They should be sold. Councils argue that these assets produce rent that can then be used on front-line services such as social care. Phooey. We all know that councils are rotten at running businesses. These assets would produce more return for the community by being transferred to the private sector. Councils should be supporting people who need support, and that should come out of national and local taxation. It shouldn't come from councils trying to be entrepreneurial money-makers. They just can't do it.
Of course, the sclerotic over-centralised rules under which local authorities are managed means they can't just flog their restaurants, hotels and cinemas (yes, really) and use the money to cut council tax; it would have to go into other capital projects. That should change. Fine if councils can't just sell up and have a one-off spending splurge, but silly if they have to over-invest in capital assets. Why not just say they can return the value to local council tax payers over, say, a ten year period? Then we can get better-managed local assets – businesses, they should be – and a ten-year cut in taxes too.