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Surplus property could raise £2bn, say auditors

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Councils own some £2.5bn worth of surplus property, the Audit Commission has said.

The commission defines surplus property as buildings that are neither providing or supporting services nor awaiting sale or being held to generate rental income.

It estimates that in 2012-13, the total local government estate in England was worth £169.8bn, down nearly one-third since 2004-05.

Commission chair Jeremy Newman said he was not calling on councils to conduct a wholesale sell-off of land and buildings or suggesting they should refrain from buying property as an investment.

“What we are highlighting is a group of assets that do not provide immediate benefit to local communities, but still require councils to spend money on maintaining them,” he said.

“While not all such land or buildings may be sellable, councils should consider how much value they gain from surplus assets and how this could be increased.”

Acommission briefing Managing Council Property Assets: Using Data from the VFM Profiles explained how councils could be strategic managers of their estate, Mr Newman said.

However, the Chartered Institute for Public Finance & Accountancy criticised the commission’s findings.

Alison Scott, Cipfa’s assistant director of local government finance, said: “To highlight surplus assets in this way does not present an accurate picture of how local authorities manage their assets.

“The reality is that at any one time local authorities will be holding a range of assets for future use or to make sure that they can achieve the best value possible for them in the longer term.”

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