Cabinet members decided in 2014 they were ‘done’ with cuts and launched an acquisition strategy and commitment to invest in staff so the council would operate more entrepreneurially. An example of this new way of thinking has seen housing officers create ABC Lettings, a management service for private landlords that enables the council to discharge its homelessness duty and increase the resilience of its own stock. Streamlined processes enable Ashford to move fast to seize opportunities and a wholly council-owned property company contributes some £70,000 a year to the general fund by buying and letting properties at affordable rents.
Central Bedfordshire Council
Applying Commercial Thinking
An enabling delivery team leads Central Bedfordshire’s drive for engagement with new and existing businesses and investors, and provides a rapid response function to secure major investment opportunities. Rapid responses have included use of a local development order to speed up the planning process for an 74,000 sq m fulfilment centre for retailer Amazon, creating some 3,000 jobs, and helping to enable the masterplan for Blue Abyss, the world’s first commercial deep sea and space research, training and test centre and technology park on the RAF Henlow site. The council worked with developer IDI Gazeley to ‘unlock’ park of Stratton Industrial Park, bringing forward 52,000 sq m of commercial space.
Following a period of service reductions, Harrow adopted an entrepreneurial vision to create growth across the council. A series of projects were launched, including Project Phoenix, which aimed for cost neutrality in the environment division by 2020, an income target of £19m, and a new commercial service delivery model in adult social care. In all, Harrow has implemented seven entrepreneurial projects, with a forecast net income of £8m over the next three years. Its legal department has created HB Public Law, which now serves three councils and this has expanded to become the first private/public partnership, run with law firm Bevan Brittan,
Communities Benefit From Our Commercialism
Rushcliffe has sought to raise income to offset budget pressures and has taken advantage of its strong cash buyer status to buy for £1.9m an office complex worth £3m whose owner entered liquidation, which now generates £300,000 income a year. Its Streetwise Environmental grounds maintenance and street cleansing service has exceeded expectations by adding £1m a year to turnover from external customers. Rushcliffe has also refurbished the decrepit Bridgford Hall as an apart-hotel providing jobs and a £120,000 annual income for the council. It has also completed a £15m civic and leisure complex, creating annual savings of £450,000.
South Norfolk Council
Entrepreneurial South Norfolk
Faced with a £6m shortfall for 2017-18, the council could cut services or embark on a commercialisation journey. It established Big Sky Development to develop surplus council land for market housing, delivering both capital and revenue returns. So far it has built 57 homes and 75 s qm of office space and current developments are on target to secure £900,000 profit. For the long term the council will have residential holdings worth £3.5m and £4.1m of commercial holdings. It also owns Build Insight, an approved inspector for building control authorised to carry out commercial work outside the district, and is part of a commercial internal audit consortium.
Manjeet Gill, chief executive, Wokingham BC
Sue Smith, former joint chief executive, Cherwell District Council & South Northamptonshire Council
Jeff Stack, chief executive, Broxbourne BC