Labour-run Redcar and Cleveland Council has an annual bill of £15.7 million of interest payments on its £197 million of debt. They raise £59 million in Council Tax – so more than a quarter of that goes on interest payments helping bankers to get fat, rather than providing services for local residents.
Therefore it is right to offer congratulations to them for proposing a "sale of the century" of £18 million of surplus buildings and land. Obviously they should be looking to go further. It would be helpful to be able to scrutinise their potential to do so, but this would require them to publish their assets register online.
By reducing the number of buildings it owns, the council will also be able to reduce its running costs.
Among the quirkier items for sale is a disused mortuary – which the council would allow to be converted to a beach hut. Why not? If you are superstitious don't buy it. But the view looks stunning.
Also for sale are various cafes – some of which are currently boarded up. Some of these buildings are beautiful – and their status would be protected. Indeed selling them would allow long overdue enhancement and restoration.
Cllr Norman Pickthall, Cabinet Member for Corporate Resources, said:
"In the present economic climate, it makes good sense for the Council to operate its services from fewer buildings or share accommodation with its partners.
"This on-going programme of disposing of assets will generate funds and reduce our running costs during times of unprecedented economic turbulence.
"As a result, we are now seeking people who can reinvigorate these buildings and put them to good use to help regenerate the area."
Quite right, Cllr Pickthall. Allow free enterprise to replace the dead hand of the state. If a socialist politician can grasp the merit of this approach, why do we not have more vigorous asset disposal strageties from Conservative councils?