Headlines: April 11th, 2000

Local councils have been urged to put their land and property assets to better use.It’s been suggested that they might engage in a massive exercise of buying and selling property in order to re-site services more conveniently to users, and that they might save money by joining up with other key services to give buildings many uses.

Councils in England and Wales own property valued in excess of 78 billion pounds, but the majority do not make the most of these assets, according to a report from the Audit Commission.

‘Hot Property’ (available at 20 pounds on 0800 502030) finds many buildings in a poor state of repair, inconveniently situated for service users, or not making best use of available space.

About ten per cent of local authority property is not used to provide mainstream services – it is ‘commercial’ property held to generate income or assist local economic development. But seventy percent of authorities do not monitor the cost or effectiveness of this exercise.

The commission recommends councils sharing town centre property with other agencies such as the police and the DSS, joining up services and saving money.

Controversially, it says they should challenge the need to hold any property which does not contribute to quality services, thus releasing funds for higher priority needs.

And it says they should search for innovative ways of providing services to users – for example, using the internet or video links, which will reduce their need to use buildings at all.