I’ve been conducting some research – in the form of FOI requests – for the TaxPayers’ Alliance on the array of assets owned by local authorities.
They include golf courses, restaurants, hotels, shopping centres, farms, pubs.
Among the findings:
- Local authorities own at least 580 restaurants or cafes, along with 378 pubs.
- Brighton and Hove City Council own 59 restaurants or cafes, while Birmingham City Council counts 17 pubs in its asset portfolio.
- Councils own 174 hotels, with Bristol City Council and Eastbourne Borough Council owning nine each.
- Local authorities own 2,586 farms, 259 theatres, 191 shopping centres and an astounding 7,294 shops.
- Councils own at least 407 golf courses, with Barnet Borough Council alone owning 10.
Among other items:
- Dumfries and Galloway Council own a cheese factory.
- Thanet District Council own a wet fish stall.
- Bristol City Council and Harlow District Council both own nightclubs, with Harlow’s ‘Seen’ nightclub described as “Essex’s most chic and sophisticated clubbing destination”.
- Bromsgrove District Council own a sawmill.
- Copeland Borough Council own pigeon lofts and a betting office.
- Gravesham Borough Council own a model railway.
- Nottingham City Council own a bingo club.
- Thurrock Borough Council own a bookies and a supermarket.
So that is a vast portfolio. That is before we get stated on all the surplus land and derelict buildings.
Some of the municipal enterprises operate at a subsidy. Others may produce a financial return. But wouldn’t most people accept that these businesses would operate more efficiently in the private sector?
For many local authorities a large chunk of the Council Tax revenue is spent on interest payments for council debt. Selling off assets could reduce that debt burden and thus reduce the Council Tax while protecting front line services.