One big item of spending for many councils is debt interest. For Gloucestershire County Council there is an interest bill of £19 million a year for their £339 million debt.
They have come up with a proposal to pay off £125 million of this debt from selling farms. This would still mean them retaining 6,400 or their existing 8,500 acres. The sales would take place gradually – only £25 million over the next four years.
The report says:
Historically, Gloucestershire has had an Estate that is burdened with a high proportion of very large farmhouses that are a drain on the revenue accounts and which also are expensive for the tenants to manage and run. At the present time, the Estate has 25 of its 81 mixed and dairy farms with substantial large dwellings. Some of these larger dwellings have been improved so that they can earn diversified income which assists to make them affordable for both landlord and the tenant. However, quite a number have not been prioritised for expenditure in the expectation that they would eventually be sold and also due to the un-affordable costs required to maintain them at an acceptable standard.
The reduction from the current position of undertaking full landlords’ agricultural responsibility on 96 farms and six additional dwellings is substantial and will consequently substantially reduce the resources required to manage the Estate. The management cost will progressively reduce as the workload reduces. One area which has been particularly time consuming in management terms is where a few tenants consistently fail to pay rent on time.
The state is a bad landlord and I am sure that when privately owned farms will be better run and get the investment needed. The fixed term tenancies are a terrible distortion.
I would like to see Gloucestershire go further and sell all their farms. But as I have written before there should be an arrangement where the tenant farmers can buy at a discount.