Last week’s Autumn Statement didn’t just see the chancellor throw down the gauntlet to the nation’s housebuilders (27.11.15), he issued a challenge too to Britain’s local authorities - to get more out of their assets.
He also gave local leaders a powerful means to meet that challenge - the right to keep all receipts from asset sales. With England’s councils alone holding an estimated £225bn in assets, there is the potential to unlock vast sums.
But this power should not be seen as a green light for a mass sell-off. A report published last week by Centre for Cities and Turner & Townsend found that many councils are now less likely to sell assets to produce one-off receipts, but are using them instead to generate ongoing revenue.
It concluded that councils that take a more strategic approach, and focus on optimising the use of their assets as a part of a programme rather than a series of disparate projects, are the most likely to thrive.
The most efficient authorities have a clear understanding of their assets, and work with both public- and private-sector stakeholders to unlock their value.
Yet there is no one-size-fits-all formula for success - for some councils the right answer will be selling assets for capital receipts, while others will prefer to use them to produce long-term revenue.
While the freedom to keep 100% of the receipts from asset sales will give cash-strapped local authorities greater flexibility, no one measure can be a panacea in an era where austerity has become the new normal.
Jon White, UK managing director, Turner & Townsend