Sunday, 22 November 2015

The District Council and its assets: to 'release assets' or to 'invest in assets'?

The District Council has regularly talked about the management of its assets.

But there are questions of consistency: do you sell/strip your assets or do you invest in/spend money on them?

On housing, the District Council has talked about 'wasted assets':

District bosses to take action on empty homes

12:30 29 October 2015
Owners of empty homes in Exmouth could face legal action, unless they take steps to bring their properties back into use.
EDDC bosses are due to consider its new Empty Homes Plan when they meet next week. It focuses on working with owners of long-term empty properties to return them to use, but also includes enforcement action options, which can be used as a last resort.
In a foreword to the document, Councillor Jill Elson, EDDC’s portfolio holder for sustainable homes, writes: “Empty homes are a wasted asset - especially when there are so many people looking for homes to live in.”
District bosses to take action on empty homes - Property - Exmouth Journal

On Sidmouth's Eastern Town, the District Council has been talking about 'underperforming' assets:

‘War’ cry over future of eastern town

09:25 05 October 2015
Sidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0934-03-12AW
Sidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0934-03-12AW
Anger at plans to redevelop a car park for social housing is a ‘battle’ that risks distracting residents from the ‘war’ over eastern town, a representative has warned.
Sidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0931-03-12AWSidmouth, Port Royal. Picture by Alex Walton. Ref shs 0931-03-12AW
East Devon District Council (EDDC) member Councillor Cathy Gardner said that the authority owns much more land that could be targeted – and Sidmouth could end up with unwanted developments like in Seaton or Exmouth if people do not speak out.
EDDC last month revealed proposals to redevelop its Mill Street car park.
The authority has drawn up proposals to build affordable housing on the ‘under-performing’ asset. It was accused of orchestrating the situation – but Cllr Gardner said the town was at risk of ‘fighting a battle but losing the war’.
“Eastern town is rough around the edges, but some of that is likely to be deliberate,” she said. “There’s also the beach management plan and any lack of progress there. When you look at the bigger picture, things start to make sense. In Exmouth, small businesses seem to have been driven out because they wanted to redevelop the seafront, but for whose benefit? Exmouth didn’t seem to want a Premier Inn. Look at Seaton – there’s no affordable housing, but they got a huge Tesco.”
EDDC’s policy in its draft Local Plan is to ‘promote a mixed-use redevelopment of the east end and Drill Hall site on The Esplanade’.The area is allocated for 30 homes.
‘War’ cry over future of eastern town - News - Sidmouth Herald

Then there is the episode of what to do with the District Council's beach hut assets - and its hitherto secret committee responsible for its assets:
Futures Forum: East Devon's beach huts and the Asset Management Forum
The Asset Management … Group … Forum … bunfight … secret society … | East Devon Watch
Seaton Beach Huts meeting: not a happy place for EDDC Councillor Pook | East Devon Watch

And there is the ongoing question of how to make best of the Knowle assets:
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project ... and 'asset renovation'


and the “Notes to Editors” which accompany it are truly hilarious (below)!
But on the serious side: is this really a press release or is it a party political spin sheet- something Eric Pickles says should attract sanctions from his office?
And notice that the Skypark relocation is described as moving to Skypark as it was “considered the best location for an ambitious and prestigious new office” … austerity, what austerity?
The ‘Notes to Editors’ are a sign of true desperation! Here are the notes@
Why move at a time of austerity?
That is one of the main reasons that we want to relocate. Like other councils we need to maximise the use and value of our assets so as to continue to deliver high quality services efficiently and be ready for the future.  (But costs have already spiralled from “around £4 m” to “around £10 m” – with no real idea of what the final cost may be)
At present we are struggling to maintain an oversized, inefficient and low value headquarters on a site that has significant capital value as well as continued amenity value. Capital receipts from Knowle will be invested in the new headquarters.  (The “oversized” HQ has no obvious structural problems and has a modern 1980s constructed wing which could be refurbished at minimal inconvenience)
Against a background of continuing austerity and national funding cuts, the council approved a budget for 2014/15 and was able to freeze its council tax bills for the fourth consecutive year – and kept at the same level for the fifth year. As well as the freeze on council tax, the council’s budget involved no cuts to services East Devon residents value the most. This has been achieved through prudent financial management.  (Council tax has been frozen by selling off assets, increasing prices of some council services, stopping or reducing others and passing costs on to parish and town councils which will have to increase their precepts)
If the council is to continue to provide cost effective and high quality services, it needs to find new ways of creating efficiencies and generating income. Like other councils, this involves squeezing as much value as possible from assets. Remaining at Knowle keeps us tied to old and inefficient buildings, expensive to maintain or improve and fails to make best use of this valuable council owned asset.  (Many other councils have accepted that at this time tired and neglected buildings will have to remain in use and that refurbishing them has a lower carbon footprint that constructing a new building.
Why move when local government could be shaped differently in the future?
This and future governments will continue to expect local government to enter into new ways of working including cross-border partnerships and shared space. Accessible, fit for purpose offices designed around the way we work will help the council to succeed.  (EDDC has only just agreed a tri-partite agreement to share costs, etc with Exeter and Teignbridge.  It has no idea how this partnership will evolve or how it will affect staffing levels. Only 250 of the current 500 staff are covered by Honiton (170) and Exmouth (70))
An HQ at Honiton and a significant Exmouth satellite operation offer both a physical presence for the council in key locations and an asset base that can be adapted to respond to future change in the way local government is structured and carries out its business. (The council has no idea how much the town hall will cost to refurbish as DCC has only just moved out.  Exmouth is as poor a location as Skypark for some EDDC residents to reach and the cost of “satellite” offices cannot be known until it is known where those offices will be and which staff will be using them).
Why do you need to leave Knowle?
Remaining at Knowle keeps us tied to old and inefficient buildings and fails to make best use of this valuable council owned asset. At present, the council is struggling to maintain an oversized, inefficient and low-value headquarters on a site that has significant capital value.  (EDDC has apparently not maintained Knowle since they made the decision to relocate in 2011 – this lack of routine maintenance may have led to its current problems. 
Given the squeeze on public expenditure – which is set to continue at least until 2020– we need to make year on year savings to release money for frontline services and as such have explored opportunities for savings from all assets including our property portfolio.  (Again, given current austerity, cherry-picking of EDDC’s most valuable assets is not a sensible way of proceeding.  What if Honiton fails the test?  What if Knowle is not given planning permission?)
Long and VERY strange EDDC press release on relocation released – a critique | East Devon Watch

It's all about 'opportunities':
Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "We’re digging into the opportunities to release assets and invest in assets to increase revenue streams."

... and 'innovation':

Richard Cohen, East Devon’s Deputy CEO on opportunities & innovation

BY JO TURA — 13 JAN, 2012

Richard Cohen is the deputy chief executive of East Devon District Council. He is responsible for development, regeneration and partnership, including asset management and delivering major projects.
Room 151: Is East Devon doing a lot to access new income streams for the council?
Richard Cohen: It is. I turned up here last May, at approximately the same time as a new administration came. They arrived with an ambition to look at what efficiencies and new sources of revenue they could identify. Some of the ideas they wanted to bed down were quite big and some were just in terms of tidying up day-to-day business.
One of my roles is to have an outward focus working with partners and seeking to influence the external world as to the advantages of working with us. We know that the traditional grant funding streams are diminishing so we’re trying to identify imaginative ways of developing our own resources.
R151: Can you give some examples?
RC: The council is reviewing its asset base to identify whether we’re extracting best value. We’ve got a variety of assets ranging from car parks and industrial estates to beach huts, a couple of cinemas. Some make money and some cost money and we’re digging into the opportunities to release assets and invest in assets to increase revenue streams.
R151How easy or difficult is it to work with partners on property?
RC: Further East and to the coast it’s about how do we use our assets to support our coastal and market towns and our rural communities so we’re looking at the smaller scale of asset management: how do we manage car parks to the advantage of retail resilience in town centres; how do we work with the leisure facilities we have. We’ve put those under the management of Leisure East Devon, a not-for-profit company. We set it up and have handed those assets over to them. Leisure centres can be quite expensive but they’re essential assets to communities.
R151: Do you have other issues are on the horizon?
RC: Community asset transfer is one. If we know what the value of our assets are and the usefulness of those assets we’re in a better position to negotiate with communities if they are interested in taking on assets. If we don’t know whether they’re a burden or a benefit then we shouldn’t be trying to farm them out. We’re also working on a formula for Community Infrastructure Levy. We’re building houses, the local plan which is going through the process at the moment proposes something like 15,000 new homes so we’ll be looking to draw down Community Infrastructure Levy on those developments.
Richard Cohen, East Devon’s Deputy CEO on opportunities & innovation | Room 151

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