Leisure and Council trading

One of the areas to look for economies lies in Council trading activities. Some Councils spend large sums on setting up business activities in competition with the private sector. Particular favourites are to provide a wide range of leisure services. Where these become loss making , and subsidised, they can impede provision by the private sector whilst also lumbering taxpayers with liabilities. Councils claiming to be short of money should sell off businesses that the private sector can run better, transferring the risk of losses away from taxpayers.

There is a case for joint use facilities shared between secondary schools and the wider community. Swimming pools, gyms, courts, pitches and the rest can be reserved for school use during weekdays in term time, but made available to others in the evenings, at week-ends and during the school holidays. Good schemes can bring more capital to improve school facilities, with returns from charging the wider community. Councils can of course buy season tickets for free access for groups of people they wish to help.

Some Councils have large asset holdings offsetting large debts. Given the high level of total public sector debt there is a case for reviewing these holdings and drawing up a disposal programme to bring debts down where a Council claims it does not have enough money.

Council provision of car parking and waste services cause frictions with taxpayers. Waste disposal for households is meant to be a free service, covered out of general taxation and the Council Tax. Many Councils now have decided that garden waste, larger items and other specially designated waste should be paid for by the householder. Car parks long owned and paid for by taxpayers are used as ways of getting a substantial income out of part of the community. This can become a flare point with voters, and can put people off going into town centres where the parking is expensive and the enforcement often energetic and hostile. In both these areas there is a conflict between the concept of community service and the use of public assets with a wish by Councils to generate income to spend on other things.

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103 Comments

  1. Lifelogic
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Indeed yet more subsidised and unfair competition from the largely parasitic state sector killing more efficient competition and innovation.

    Just as we have in healthcare, schools, universities, housing, broadcasting and so many other areas. The councils also control the planning system which they frequently distort in favour of themselves.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 5:53 am | Permalink

      Remember also when very many incompetent Councils lost £1.05bn (of tax payers money) when the Icelandic banks collapsed in 2008.

      Not there money so what do they care just tax some more.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        or even “their money”

      • MWB
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:47 am | Permalink

        Councillors should be made responsible for the decisions and policies that they promote and pass, so should heve been surcharged for the Icelandic banks fiasco.
        Perhaps it will end up with councillors having to have indemnity insurance. Maybe it would resullt in a better quality of councollor, but maybe not.

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:31 am | Permalink

          Councillors are responsible as demanded. It’s MPs who are NOT and should be. I would like to see those who vote for disaster legislation held financially responsible. It will not repay us but it will bankrupt them. Pause for thought when running into anti-British lobbies!

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:04 am | Permalink

            Like voting for a no-deal exit from the European Union, you mean, Lynn?

            This just gets better.

          • Al
            Posted August 17, 2020 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

            Making Councillors accountable will do little when the top civil servants in the Councils out-earn and out-last them. Accountability should be brought in for all levels of government and its employees, but I don’t see that happening soon.

            The use of a cabinet system in several councils (where only selected councillors can make decisions on any issue at all – not just areas of speciality) also means that councillors are denied a say in many matters, as are the people that voted for them.

    • Nigl
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:37 am | Permalink

      Ah yes. I knew you would have all the answers. Just let us know how many councils you have led over the years and how successful. I am still waiting to know why your expertise re A level results yesterday was ignored.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:26 am | Permalink

      Society, as an entity, has a right to decide whether it wants, as an aim, to do things for itself or to buy these from a supplier whose purpose is to make money by charging the highest possible price for the least, whilst still retaining the contract.

      The job descriptions of those in the first are to deliver whatever the service might be.

      For those in the second, they are to contribute to the making of a profit by the undertaking.

      In some cases, notably in the supply of manufactured goods where there is competition, the second may well be appropriate, but not always, as the recent PPE fiasco shows.

      With services, as care for the frail has shown, the position is rather more dubious. Local monopolies are a particular problem.

      • Edward2
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:32 am | Permalink

        Why would you buy from a company offering the highest possible price?
        Is that what you do when you go off buying things you need ?

    • oldwulf
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Taxpayer subsidised charity trading can be just as insidious as public sector trading

    • Sir Joe Soap
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:34 am | Permalink

      Well there have to be some things which are a communal interest. Waste collection, for example. Totally privatising that would mean that stuff would get dropped anywhere and everywhere. Probably referenda on what should and shouldn’t be arranged locally would be a good plan, without allowing communities to dump their problems next door, so within a national framework. Councils or governments making trading decisions isn’t going to end well (Brown/gold/RBS, Major/currencies/dome, Johnson/HS2, Councils/Icelandic banks)

    • NickC
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      Lifelogic, Our local authority has cancelled parking charges until the end of August. Why? To encourage shoppers to come back to the town centre!

      It does not seem to have occurred to them that the reverse is therefore true – that imposing parking charges drives custom away. By high rates, ridiculous one way systems, and excessive parking charges councils have all but killed the high street golden goose.

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 4:09 am | Permalink

        Indeed.

        I can com[ortably afford parking ticket but nevertheless I still feel very resentful that I have been mugged (whenever I do get a fine for getting back to the car a few minutes late or puting a tyre into an empty bus lane in error). The parking that you can only pay on the phone are a huge waste of time and inconvenience. They deter people stopping at all.

  2. Adam
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    Some Councils offer green waste collection as a charged extra to prevent householders without gardens paying for others’ usage. That may seem well-intentioned but could be extended in principle to virtually any difference of need, so adds needlessly daft complication.

    Businesses and consumers know what is best for business. Councils should run local govt and not try to compete.

    • Fred H
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Councils provide green waste services, some returning the compost for sale, in an effort to improve the quality of gardens(and homes!) in the area. Some make large items a collection service, again this may well be a saving compared to costs involved in fly rubbish tipping. Curiously shared waste disposal sites and contractors can lead to different rates of charged wheelie-bin rentals, and difficulty with council policy.
      Wokingham for instance does not have its own waste disposal amenity.

    • Sir Joe Soap
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:25 am | Permalink

      Probably also leads to bonfires, which they don’t like either. The most bizarre one is to charge householders for decorating waste, plaster etc. at the tip, but not to charge for hazardous waste in case that gets fly-tipped. Result, non-hazardous waste gets fly tipped and the council pays more for it to be scooped up.

    • graham1946
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I have been paying for green collection for years and we have to buy the wheelie bin. However, it is the one service which is reasonable in price, useful to me and I wouldn’t be without it. On the other hand I do not like paying the thick end of two grand a year to have my waste bins collected every fortnight, never see a policeman unless rushing past on blue lights, roads never swept, no street lights (don’t actually want them but we support them for towns), pot holes that last months or years. Councils do not seem to actually do anything now. They used to have a direct labour force but now are just service buyers. Why they need ever growing plush offices (shut since March) I cannot figure out. When the poll tax came out they built a new office suite with computers and staff, but when that was cancelled and we went back to essentially the rates system, no downsizing was done. They used to have to use car parking charges for maintenance of car parks, but that seems to have gone and they just use it as a revenue raiser now. More to be said, but much too long already.

      • a-tracy
        Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Did they continue your green bin collection throughout covid from April to August? Ours got suspended even though everyone was doing more gardening.

    • beresford
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      The green waste was processed and sold as compost. Obviously when you have fewer people ‘contributing’ you lose economy of scale.

      • Annette
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        When I lived in The Netherlands, vegetation ie food waste excluding meat & bones, was put in the green bin along with gardening waste. This was part of the weekly pick up included in the rates – no extra charge. Every Christmas you were invited to pick up one bag (per household) of compost by way of a thank you for recycling. I believe that they sold the rest of the resulting compost.
        Seemed like a pretty sound idea.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:33 am | Permalink

        They also put the junk they clear from along the roadside and under hedges into their ‘compost‘ – which is sold. You often find undesirables in any you buy.

  3. agricola
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 5:25 am | Permalink

    Ultimately it is down to the quality of councillors and their political motivations. The more government devolves the less control it has of local outcomes. Maybe the shifting of responsibility is what national government wants, prefering being answerable for the big questions. Though in the latter case they have grown so used to getting their answers from the EU that they have lost the capacity for working it out themselves.

    • Andy
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:09 am | Permalink

      This government has been working everything out for itself during the Covid crisis.
      How well do you think it’s done?

      • agricola
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:45 am | Permalink

        Better than anything your thinking could come up with. It was a real time problem that needed immediate action, not one you could ponder over in some political treatise. If they got it 75% right they did well. An informed postmortem will help get it better next time.

        The thought of having it in the hands of Corbyn and his third rate acolytes does not bare contemplation.

      • Edward2
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        Better than the EU which has retreated during the crisis.
        Failing to provide the leadership one might have expected and thecEU leadership has left it to the individual nations to act and decide what to do.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

          Ed, I would dearly love to have heard your reaction, if the European Union – not that it ever had the power – had centrally imposed a lockdown, the wearing of masks etc. in twenty-seven countries.

          • Edward2
            Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

            I just think they have failed to provide leadership.
            At a time when the EU might have stepped up they shrunk into the shadows.
            Leaving individual nations to go it alone.

          • Lynn Atkinson
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:36 am | Permalink

            They would never do that Martin. The whole strategy is to compel the ‘national governments’ to enforce all the nasty stuff so that they attract the unpopularity rathe than the EU. You must know this? Imagine of the buff envelopes for the cost of the EU had landed on doorsteps with the stars on the letterhead? The whole thing would have been nipped in the bud across the continent.

        • bill brown
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

          Edward 2

          this is exactly nore vocered by the Eu charter or treaties so nobody except you would expect them to deliver

          • Edward2
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Deliver?
            I just expected a bit more leadership and better co ordination from the EU at a time of European crisis.
            That’s all.

      • NickC
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

        Unfortunately, Andy, the government has done exactly what you demanded – lockdown the economy. In fact you demanded more – a longer and harsher lockdown which would have resulted in even more economic damage. Isn’t it about time you took responsibility for your hysterical over-reaction? Ohh . . .

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

          The Government could do or not do whatever it liked with an indefeasible eighty-seat majority.

          The opinions of Andy, of myself or of anyone else, had zero effect upon that.

          • Lynn Atkinson
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            No they didn’t. Your opinion, loudly expressed caused Boris, who stupidly wants your vote, to do immensely damaging things to his own support base, which is why you demanded what you did.
            Fully your responsibility. I hope there is not enough money to pay your pension. You can get a job in the EU singing and dancing through the sunlit fields….

          • Martin in Cardiff
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 7:12 am | Permalink

            Well, they didn’t take a blind bit of notice of seven hundred thousand demonstrating in London, so I think that they are not quite such insecure little things as you claim, Lynn.

            That’s your most comical yet for me.

      • Everhopeful
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

        Has it been working everything out for itself?
        I rather thought it was following orders.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:48 am | Permalink

      Am I right in thinking that councillors now get paid?
      And that up until now it has been deemed ok to take little “planning rewards”?

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:39 am | Permalink

        No they don’t take planning rewards, unless they happen to own a piece of land …..

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      We have seen, in the last week, the local council at Dover saying that it couldn’t cope with the numbers of dinghyists arriving. Perhaps we need a new principle of government: that councils should not have to deal with the mess of failed national government policies. This would mean that the Whitehall would have to deal with every aspect of looking after illegal immigrants and that councils would be able to say, ‘Nothing to do with me, Guv.’

  4. Nigl
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    Don’t blame local councils for trying to raise money when you have dumped what should be your responsibilities at the same time as restricting the money you give them.

    Allowing them to refuse to accept dementia as an illness so not having to support it, your contemptible failure to support social care, ignore murders committed by unfortunate people for whom Care in the Community are just hollow words, dumping Covid infected elderly back into care homes hastening people’s deaths and actually killing some support staff etc.

    All the while sending tens of billions abroad in aid and politicians have the brass neck to blame councils for raising money.

    My mother who had dementia was sent home at 1100 at night clutching a bag of medication that she could not understand how to use, taken to her door by an ambulance man and left to her own devices. I saw the five minutes of work that should have been an hour from a council worker and the filthy meals delivered daily.

    My grandmother was in the Gosport War Memorial where hundreds of elderly patients were killed. Anybody held to account, of course not the usual handwringing that the public sector uses to escape responsibility.

    If there was a modern sans cullottes movement I would join it tomorrow.

    • Everhopeful
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:46 am | Permalink

      There’s always Les Gilets Jaunes?
      But the French Revolution, two world wars plus every uprising ever and look….
      Boris and Macron!
      The more we struggle…the tighter the noose!
      Should have gone to Votesavers…and got it right!!

    • jerry
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      @Nigl; Whilst I sympathise and agree with much you say, I have also lost family members to illness, less than acceptable NHS (mal)practises [1], and dementia, when you say your mother was “taken to her door by an ambulance man and left to her own devices”, where were you when this happened – do I assume correctly, and might that be the reason why the ambulance man felt able to leave (instead of returning your mother to hospital/care home)?

      [1] admitted as such by the NHS, with compensation offered, due to a fatal misdiagnosis, and before certain people rant on about the private sector, they did the actual surgery and should have run their own diagnosis before hand

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

      I agree that social services, the NHS and indeed most government services are generally appallingly run but it is not more money they need. They waste it hand over fist already. What is needed is a system that rewards people who deliver and punished people who do not. As we have in the private sector. The state sector is run by state sector workers for the benefit of state sector workers.

    • NickC
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Nig1 Both a friend’s elderly father, and my own mother, were dreadfully neglected whilst in NHS hospitals. We had to organise family rotas to feed them because the nurses didn’t, and couldn’t seem to care less. But both happened during Labour governments (c2005). The fact is Ministers don’t really have the power to sort out the NHS mess, not least because NHS management feed them bogus statistics.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:41 am | Permalink

        Standard stuff. This is the true story of the NHS but because you encounter them at your most vulnerable, you don’t want to antagonise them for fear of immediate reprisal (ignoring your bell for instance).

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

      There’s a sans cerveaux movement which seems to have attracted plenty.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Of course we do. We just have not had to for a long time. Ever heard of the Civil war? Very uncivil it became.

  5. Stephen Priest
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:05 am | Permalink

    How does this help the economy in Cumbria its local people?

    A Dutch family cancelled their stay in our holiday property in Cumbria. They won’t be spending their money in local shops, pubs, restaurants or tourist attractions.

    Traveller’s reason: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
    Message from Fred
    “Due to new strict Covid19 rules by the UK government I am forced to cancel this stay.”

    The rise in infection in the Netherlands is due to the rise in testing and the increase can be counted in very small numbers out of 1000,000 people. Yesterday 636 reported positive tests and 2 deaths out a population of over 17 milllion people. The usual annual summer flu and pneumonia are killing more people at the moment, and that’s even lower than average.

    Nice work Boris.

    • Jess
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      This Conservatve government, aided by the entire craven, cowardly parliament and msm, have done more damage to this country than any foreign power in history. They are the enemy not some hyped up cold virus. It is about time the mass of people started to question this charade.

      • Mark B
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 4:50 am | Permalink

        As I keep telling people here :

        “You can always tell where government has been by the mess it leaves behind !”

    • jerry
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:20 am | Permalink

      @Stephen Priest; But on the flip-side, an English family cancelled their stay in a holiday property in the Occitanie region of France on Friday. They won’t be spending their money in those local French shops, pubs, restaurants or tourist attractions either. Yet they still want a holiday though, so are no looking at Holiday properties in the UK, with the associated spending within the local economy.

      My glass is half full, I suspect yours is always half empty…

      “The rise in infection in the Netherlands is due to the rise in testing and the increase can be counted in very small numbers out of 1000,000 people. “

      That might well be the case, all it does though is prove why travel restrictions should never have been relaxed!

    • Sea Warrior
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Do you think you’ll be able to let the property to someone else? My major objection to these quarantine measures is that too little notice is being given to holidaymakers. The government should be aiming to give at least a week’s worth.
      P.S. I had been hoping to get to Curacao, via Amsterdam – so that’s now scuppered.
      My fall-back plan? The Lake District.

      • Stephen Priest
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        It is not about letting the property to someone else.

        Boris Johnson has no moral right to do what he is doing. He’s ruined thousands of people holidays for no good reason.

        The lock down should end.

        The virus is causing far less death currently than pneumonia and summer flu, which is also lower than normal according to the ONS figures.

        There is plenty that does not feel right about this. Why a massive lockdown in Victoria based on 11 elderly Australians dying?

        Most countries have taking their instructions from the WHO, and the instruction are the de facto constitution. All the Government medicale advisers round the world from Fauci in the US to Whitty here told us
        mask were absolutely useless, but now they are compulsory in most countries, with the same medical experts agreeing.

        • jerry
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 8:00 am | Permalink

          @Stephen Priest; “The virus is causing far less death currently than pneumonia and summer flu, which is also lower than normal according to the ONS figures. “

          QED! That is because of the lock-down and other measures, not in spite of them – how’s things in the USA and Brazil, even where ineffective lock-down have been imposed, as happened in India…

          “There is plenty that does not feel right about this.”

          Ahh, so the thinly disguised conspiracy theory gets an outing…

          All that sort of continual bleating does is make people reconsider other issues, from AGW to even Brexit where conspiracy theory is/was suggested.

        • anon
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

          The choice is go in hard at the start interim (3-4 weeks) and maybe succeed in preventing onward transmission or failing and then moving to a contain and flatten the curve. Whilst always protecting the vulnerable who want it.
          As a vaccine approaches this seems reasonable to save say 25k lives in Oz. If they fail at least they made a good go. Not like our Gov & the PHE lot.

  6. SM
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    The use of the phrase ‘council trading activities’ is significant. Councils should not be involved in ‘trading’ or any kind of commercial activities – they should surely be involved solely in helping the community to live in a safe and sanitary environment that enables the provision of education, health and social care by the Council and others.

    It should also lay the ground for commercial activities in ways that will benefit the community by wise allocation of land and roads, and the establishment of bylaws that will prevent pollution in its various forms.

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      What if the local people vote for councillors who expressly state that their intention is to engage in such an undertaking, whatever it might be?

      Don’t you accept democracy?

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        That’s why it must be made unlawful. Don’t you believe in upholding the law?

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 7:16 am | Permalink

          So you want a centralised absolute dictatorship, and local democracy to be crushed.

          And yet you shrieked about the European Union’s relieving Westminster of the tedium of duplicating routine regulation across twenty-eight countries.

          You get more entertaining by the hour, Lynn.

          • Edward2
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

            It is about defining what Councils role is.
            My Council have lost millions on investments they have made with cash they hold as reserves.
            Whilst putting out statements that they need to make cuts due to austerity.
            They have lost millions trying to produce their own local newspaper.
            They have lost millions on investing in local businesses which in the end went bust.
            Whilst services like roads parks lighting rubbish collections local buses and more get worse.

    • Lifelogic
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Indeed they should be like a company charging a fee to manage a block of flats taking the rubbish aways and doing a bit of maintenance and policing.

      Certainly they should not have anything to do with education. Not indeed should they be allowed to compete unfairly in any area with the private sector.

    • glen cullen
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:42 am | Permalink

      Agree – Councils have forget the core values of why they exist. My council leader/mayor (with no prior business experience) believe he’s on par with the chairman of BP. Only interested in developing business ventures to reduce future burdens on tax-payer

      Council taxes still going up and going up further to subsidie development trading ventures

      • Lifelogic
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Managed by the sort of fools who lent billions to Icelandic Banks. Plus they rig the planning system in their favour to further rig the market in their favour and put others out of business.

        • Lifelogic
          Posted August 15, 2020 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

          Totally unsecured to Icelandic banks too.

    • NickC
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

      SM, Just so – councils should not be involved in trading. I think this is news because of the energy companies set up by local authorities which have come a cropper. It is the wont of bureaucrats to extend their empires if they can.

      • glen cullen
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

        They’re also keen on using council funds to purchase land/property to rent for revenue and maybe profit in 10yrs (it never happens) and buy art work for capital gain (it never happens)

        • Lynn Atkinson
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:46 am | Permalink

          +1 but the Nuclear Wardens did a great job – not a single nuclear bomb dropped since they were appointed.

  7. Mark B
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    Good morning.

    I am of the view that both Local and National government and Assemblies should own the property but, franchise out the service to private companies. This way competition is maintained and the service is improved. The governing both gets a smaller but continuous stream of cash. This cash should be used not for additional spending, as is always the case, but to lower the cost to the taxpayer. Selling assets just for one financial gain, which in turn will be wasted on pointless things and more bureaucracy is not proper governance in my view. Owning the asset and franchising it out like we do with telecoms is a much better way.

    The cutting of waste disposal is another scam councils have used to get more money just to avoid cutting costs and incurring the wrath of the unions. The State Sacred Cow has grown too fat and needs urgent slimming down.

  8. Bob Dixon
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    The classic is Luton Council who own Luton Airport.Luton Council say they are short of money and have no intention of selling the airport.They want The Government to bail them out!

  9. Everhopeful
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Goodness knows what our council spends money on.
    Diversity training? Jollies? ( £2 million on compliant street lighting ).
    They have shut down Care Homes, Libraries, Police Stations, Hospitals, Drs surgeries, at least two local markets, car parks and worst of all any contact with the actual council! All now is through a useless “customer service” which rarely answers the ‘phone anyway. Oh, unless you e mail them 😂.
    Not a single solitary nose-poking-in, not even from councillors ( are you still alive?) throughout the great imprisonment.
    School swimming pools were only ever for the local “in crowd” and now they seem to have been taken over by some woke, Soviet -like company. Yet at least one I know was originally funded by local donation. Ditto the beach,left to the people in a will and a Health Centre which was built by donation by a very great man’s wife.
    (He was our MP and I can not express what a wonderful era he represented. We have none of that now).
    Like govt the local councils now control, subsume and ruin everything.

  10. Andy
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    If you accept, as most people do, that we do need local services – waste collection, road maintenance, libraries and the like – then you need somebody to run them.

    There are two areas where our current system breaks down. Firstly, many councils are ridiculously undemocratic and unrepresentative. Here in Buckinghamshire nearly all of our councillors are Conservatives – despite the fact that half the people here don’t vote for them. A look at the council website’s councillor page shows us images of lots of old white people. We need councils elected by PR and councillors from a range of backgrounds.

    Secondly, councils have limited fundraising powers and consequently limited wiggle room on what they can and can’t spend money on. Westminster tells them what to do. It might be that, in Berkshire, people want lower council taxes and fewer council gyms. Perhaps in Tower Hamlets it might be the other way around. But that should be entirely for local people to decide, not central government.

    As it is – my local authority, nearly all Tory, gets told by central government – all Tory – exactly what to do. The 58% of the electorate which did not vote Tory in December and the half of us who do not vote Tory at local elections are completely ignored. Worse, the electoral system has an inbuilt advantage for the Tories so it’s not even as though we can vote to change this. While just 38,000 votes elect a Tory MP- 50,000 votes are needed to elect a Labour MP. 336,000 are needed to elect a Lib Dem; and 865,000 to elect a Green. No number of votes have ever elected Farage. The same thing happens locally, but obviously with smaller numbers.

    The electoral system needs to change so council are elected by PR and better reflect their areas – and the Tories need to change it. If they don’t we’ll enforce change on them. When the ballot box doesn’t work for the majority- and it doesn’t – then revolution is a perfectly legitimate tactic – as the leader of Belarus is about to find out.

    • Lynn Atkinson
      Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:47 am | Permalink

      We don’t need the ‘somebody’ to maintain an office in Brussels.

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 16, 2020 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

      Move go a Labour run authority Andy you have the wherewithal, sadly lots of people in Labour run authorities can’t afford to move.

      I can tell you investments, waste, social services are typically in a totally poor state locally, litter, litter everywhere, noise and disturbance ignored; ugly rude graffiti left; little to no planting, grass appallingly cut and left to seed the pavements and road, they allow ugly fencing and signage, ignore tipping, overgrown verges over pavements, and poor unsatisfactory schools, i could go on but you have your agenda to run off and ignore people that respond to you.

  11. Everhopeful
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Our rubbish collection is a JOKE. Contracted out naturally.
    We witness on a regular basis that all the waste “separation” ( and extra charges for garden or large items ) can easily be overcome for “mates”.
    Feed a whole bed into the crusher!! Extra huge collection of garden waste. A perk of the job?
    Yet other folk have to pay extra for garden waste and large item collection.
    And when there is a mess up ( like taking the annual £52 for garden waste on a MONTHLY basis) no one can be contacted and when they are finally rooted out they are RUDE.

  12. Jess
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Councils should restrict their operations to being janitors and junior clerks and act as servants of the people not masters. No grand schemes, no business activities, provide basic services and thats all.

  13. jerry
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    “Council provision of car parking and waste services cause frictions with taxpayers.”

    Yes, the applauding service provided by the private contractors!

    The services used to be far better when ran as not-for-profit but the council, rubbish was cleared no questions (and spillages were shovelled up), if it would go in the refuge cart it was taken – not now, and thus rubbish gets left or worst still fly-tipped by the householder or rouge trader in some country lane or field. Car parks are now over priced, thus contributing to the loss of bricks-n-mortar retail as both council and contractor each want their own slice, and some use barely legal methods to hand out parking fines – signs to high for people to read, signs not logically placed etc.

    Even the (once police ran) Traffic Warden is not immune, there was a case recently of a bus, in its Bus-Stop lay-by, being ticketed the other week simply because the driver was taking a council mandated timetabled break and had dared to walk off to get a cup of tea!

    Councils used to have a statutory duty to hire leisure facilities out, or provide needed unprofitable services. Often allowing small groups of like minded people with special needs or interests access out side of normal hours, these groups are often not large enough to pay commercial hire fees -the over commercialisation of leisure facilities has seen such groups dwindle as they lose access to sports centres and swimming pools etc.

    Time to stop this 40 year nonsense, many services were better when run by the councils, not by the private sector who only have one aim, to maximise profit – want to invest and make money, go make widgets!

    • jerry
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      Highway and verge grass and hedge cutting is another failed privatised service, around here we are lucky id we get the verges cut-back three times a year, some road signs become unreadable (if not invisible), not only unsightly but dangerous, so filthy their meaning and reason for being is lost.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:49 am | Permalink

        They are forcing us to use GPS. That relieves them of the cost of direction signs. Price does not come down though 😤

  14. beresford
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    We used to have a free ‘large items’ collection in Birmingham. After they introduced a substantial charge for it we started to see large fridge/freezers flytipped by the roadside. As previously mentioned by others, these things are production-engineered to have a short life and are difficult to legally dispose of.

  15. Bryan Harris
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    It makes sense for councils to buy into projects that will save money or even generate income, but all too often they go off half-cock to buy something because it sounds like a good idea.

    Buying art is another area councils should not get involved in.

    TPA regularly publish details of tax payers money being wasted — Councils feature far too often – they do need reigning in
    https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/

    It would make a lot of sense to have councils dispose of unnecessary assets to avoid tax rises.

  16. Alan Jutson
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    I think its time we had a proper and grown up discussion about what the roles for National Government and Local Authorities should be.

    Should we have a National tax system with grants to Local Authorities (subject to annual argument or Party Political favouritism) or should we expand our present dual tax system in a more open and honest manner.

    Certainly we need at the very least to stop the present chaos of splitting the NHS and Social care and its funding.
    We either have a National NHS and Social care system, with the same rules and entitlements for the whole Country, or as is at present we do not, but instead use a post code lottery.

    As I have posted before Councils many decades ago used to maintain the roads, schools, Council owned properties, refuse collection, and regularly maintain and clean the paths, ditches, drains, streams, parks, sports pitches, swimming pools, street lighting, grass verges, lopping of trees ,etc etc.

    Now they appear first to be a money grabbing and financial distribution centre for a whole host of government benefits and local initiatives, with ever decreasing efficiency of communication with local residents.

  17. Sir Joe Soap
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    This is a mixed bag of a post.

    Before thinking about disposals, Councils need to think about their role in the community, which is purely using local taxpayers and business rates money to improve taxpayers’ and businesses’ lives in an efficient manner.

    For taxpayers, the key areas would seem to be education, health, leisure, transport, security, waste collection, planning and ensuring a healthy communal environment. There are problems to do with conflicts of interest, where motorists can be “captured” into expensive car parks by councils tying up roads locally with parking restrictions. Equally vested interests and conflicts abound in planning decisions.

    Within a basic national framework, there’s a case for a long list of these decisions being put to a local referendum say once a year. The electorate should have their say as to whether parking charges should be levied, leisure facilities set up at all, let alone council-run, roads opened or closed, extra houses built and where, and so on. Then the council can invest/disinvest, etc.

  18. oldwulf
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    It would be interesting to know what discussions or negotiations take place between local authorities and central government as to how much tax is collected by each of them, how much each then has to borrow and how much of the local authority budget is then subsidised by central government.

    Local councils usually complain that they have been starved of funds by central government. Maybe they forget that both local and central government raise money from the same taxpayers. In the end we all pay for everything.

    My own local authority seems to have got into a bit of a mess with the refurbishment of an entertainment venue. The sad thing about this is there is now less money available for those who really need it.

  19. Dave Andrews
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Commercial activities must be a tiny portion of the council budget. At one time, we had an annual leaflet describing how the money was spent, no longer, and even then the detail of how much was spent on pensions was missed out.
    It annoys me when local elections come round that I get these leaflets telling me what the prospective candidate is going to do and spend money on. In reality, all available cash will be spent on statutory obligations of social care and education, not able to meet the demand, and with scant remaining for anything else. Having said that, when it comes to executive salaries, councils seem to be awash with cash.

  20. turboterrier
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    I am told by my local councillor when agreeing that residents in rural areas do not get a fair run of the green that I have to accept that over 75% of their budget is spent on social services and related procedures. . The more people get for nothing the more they expect and demand. The general perception of the council employees is that there is no urgency, buck passing, over promise and under deliver and do they give a stuff? No because it is not their money andtheyand they are never held responsible or accountable and central government is big enough to blame and kick. The jobs are basically for life with good pensions all at no risk as long as you turn up keep your head down and operate in auto pilot until you can leave at 5PM and pick your brains up where you left then at the entrance and go home and get on and enjoy your life. The executive positions have a lot to answer for, but they are rarely called to account.

  21. fedupsoutherner
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    How many councils operate a programme of helping people to resign from jobs they are simply not competent to do and then ‘finding’ another position for them whilst drawing their pensions from the first position and gaining a wage for the made up one? Our previous council openly admitted that redundancies don’t really occur because another position is nearly always found.

    We have recently moved and find that although we have street lights they are permanently turned off to save money. Our street verges are not kept clean, enormous pot holes are simply left to get bigger and nobody gives a damn when we report dog fouling on a large scale even though there are signs telling people they can be fined for allowing their dogs to foul the pavements and roads. When we do report it an obscure person at the end of the phone tells you letters will be sent out but 6 weeks later nothing has been done. We are supposed to have dog wardens but have never seen one. If fines were issued for more things that are supposed to be finable then perhaps the council could make some money.

    In the meantime I am fed up, as a previous commentator said, with large sums of money being sent out for foreign aid while our services get cut or are more expensive. Money for social care is being taken now but will we really see a difference when it is our turn to be taken care of? I expect it will be used for some other ‘more important virtuous project’ that the council will come up with.

  22. Ian @Barkham
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    All forms of Government which clearly includes Local Councils should not at anytime commit taxpayer money to any form of enterprise. There is a difference between awarding a time limited contract to an enterprise to run something and promoting your mates to run something using the bottomless pit of the taxpayer.

    Central Government is culpable in local affairs. If they dump new rules, legislation and commitments on Councils with proviso that they find the money they immediately create areas of conflict. Central Government should worry about all things external and those that have to be done (there is vary little) centrally. Its the one size fits all mentality in Metro Land that is crippling the UK, the more that is decided on(as in is it really needed) locally the better.

    Our system of control and taxation is corrupting and a hinderance to the improvement and wellbeing of all.

  23. Ian Wilson
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Many councils, perhaps even a majority, have declared “climate emergencies” and are spending substantial sums of taxpayers’ money on pathetic attempts to achieve “zero carbon”, encouraged of course by the government. I asked my council how they justify spending £8 million on such waste when professional climate scientists (ref Clintel) state there is no climate emergency and have also asked how there were ice ages and dinosaurs fared so well at CO2 levels 10 – 20 times higher than today. Needless to say I received the usual waffle about the IPCC and the Climate Change Committee (still scandalously under a chairman whose business interests receive 6-figures sums from wind and electric car interests) but as always evading my questions.

  24. beresford
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Don’t forget that the Council facilities are there for all, not just the most profitable. Encouraging moderate physical fitness reduces the load on the NHS, and of course the risk of serious effects from Covid19. My local leisure centre shares facilities with local schools, but of course things are now complicated by the Covid19 situation and the perceived need to maintain complete separation between school parties and the general public. Though nominally a council facility the centre is run by the ubiquitous Serco.

  25. agricola
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    A further thought. When a commercial company chooses a manager for a particular function they are focused on whether he/ she can do the job. No serious interest in the colour of skin, politics, religion, or whether he/she can play cricket or not. It is a question of whether they will improve the bottom line.

    Councillors are almost the exact opposite. Politics are paramount, then it is a matter of is he/ she one of us, whatever us happens to be. Actual fitness for the job of running million pound budgets, understanding the technicalities of anything, rarely comes into it. Is it any wonder we get the results we do. I would contend that candidate councillors should be investigated for political leanings and be excluded if they show any.

  26. DavidJ
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Many years ago I worked as a local authority Engineer and was expected to learn about the law as applied in particular to local authorities. One thing thing I remember well is the principle of “ultra vires” meaning that councils were required to stick to the essential and proper business of a council.

    Clearly that principle was discarded years ago and councils were allowed to get involved in matters which they should have kept their noses out of.

    Time to wind the clock back and keep councils out of business that they should not be involved in and stick to their right and proper duties. No squandering of ratepayers money on events such as “Gay Pride” / BLM and no partnering with private companies where corruption is likely behind many decisions.

  27. James Freeman
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    There is a conflict of interest between councils running local services and their control over planning for rival businesses. In many cases also they dominate local employment markets, have monopolies over many local services and subsidise others. This works against creating vibrant local communities and economies.

    It is not worth developing a better business idea if the council already provides it. Who in their right mind would set up a business if their competition is subsidised and can prevent you from expanding?

    Where local councils run services, they should be removed from the planning process for rivals. Their businesses should be strictly regulated to ensure everyone is treated fairly.

  28. Lynn Atkinson
    Posted August 15, 2020 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Monmouthshire County Council is the largest landowner in the County. I was at a meeting when a farmer objected – the response ‘just because there are fewer farmers does not mean there will be fewer farms.’
    Makes your heart sing! Especially when you see how efficiently the State run the railways, take your hiking boots in case of pile-up!

    • Martin in Cardiff
      Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Who would you rather owned the most land in the county? The crown prince of a Gulf State?

      • Edward2
        Posted August 15, 2020 at 7:42 pm | Permalink

        You miss the point.
        Earlier you railed against a few rich people owing freehold land.
        Now here faced with a council owning loads of land you are all relaxed about it.
        Not exactly power to the people is it?

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          Oh dear, you are confused, aren’t you, Ed?

          • Edward2
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

            No I’m not “confused” any more than you are about history.
            My local Council owns lots of land.
            That is what you socialists want.
            The transfer of ownership of freehold land to the State.

        • Martin in Cardiff
          Posted August 16, 2020 at 7:21 am | Permalink

          …and Lynn’s post only meant that the Council was the largest single landowner, not that it owned most of Monmouthshire.

          • Edward2
            Posted August 16, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

            You are stating the obvious.

      • Lynn Atkinson
        Posted August 16, 2020 at 5:59 am | Permalink

        How about the farmers? To those who can use them – the tools. Monmouth Council also open a Seasonal cafe at Chepstow Castle in the summer (and maybe others too), creaming off the high season takings thus depriving local cafes and restaurants. Because it is open for just short of the specified time, they don’t have to comply with H&S stainless kitchens etc either, so they don’t have the huge overhead foisted on the the private sector. They refused pp for anyone else to do same on the grounds that the castle is a national monument.
        You can’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hare. The State must NEVER be allowed to compete commercially with their Lords (the people).
        See Martin, you Socialists are Statists claiming that that huge entity is the people but it’s not (the power is used by a very few people in the right place to become obscenely wealthy – see Etc ed). I’m a Conservative and will fight for the people against the overweening power of the state to my dying breath.

  29. XYXY
    Posted August 17, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Agree with the piece entirely with one thing to add:

    It has long irked me that council parking is based on a system where you are asked to guess in advance how long you’ll be staying, then penalised for guessing wrong.

    The technology has existed for a long time now (and is in use in car parks such as NCP etc) to charge people in arrears based on actual time stayed and use ANPR to note the arrival an departure times.

    This leads to exorbitant fines and people over-paying rather than risk overstaying and being fined.

    One local council car park has recently changed their meters to take cards, but still you have to guess in advance.

    Perhaps MPs would do well to legislate that only charging in arrears, based on actual usage, is allowed (by anyone, council or otherwise), with ANPR. That way there should never be any need for penalty fines.

  30. David Brown
    Posted August 17, 2020 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I believe in the power of the local authorities because in deprived areas all provide facilities at subsidised rates.
    The big problem with the private sector is that it needs to make a profit
    The alternative is Charity organisations and a lot of Leisure facilities are charity status

    • a-tracy
      Posted August 20, 2020 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

      David, what services are provided in the deprived areas at subsidised rates, I’m really intrigued the facilities in my town are insufficient. Wealthy enclaves nearby have fabulous halls, parks, Leisure facilities, sports groups funded, open to all not just in the middle of a council estate for just the people in those council estates that seldom use them, graffiti them and break the equipment and those older teenagers that do frequent in the evening scare off the other kids. One small town 1/3 of the size of my town even has a cinema in the Civic Hall, a superb library with all sorts of extras that my Town doesn’t offer in our run down offering, the local heath and parks and waterways are all kept smart, clean, attractive and well attended. The local street care team there sweeps up, clears up mess as soon as its made and graffiti its like a different world and they pay no more in rates, its just a different council.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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