Headlines: October 13th, 2009

Local authorities have criticised Government plans to sell off 16 billion of pounds worth of public assets as a way of reducing the growing budget deficit. The Local Government Association says there was no consultation on the asset sell-off plans outlined by the Prime Minister even though they would seriously affect councils.

Gordon Brown said initial plans would see the sale of three billion pounds worth of assets, including the Dartford Crossing and the cross-Channel rail link, with another 13 billion being raised by the sales of real estate owned by local authorities. The Chairman of the Local Government Association, Margaret Eaton, said it was disappointing that councils had not been consulted about the announcement, which could have serious ramifications for the state of their tightly managed budgets.

“As a matter of routine councils sell off unwanted assets but always make sure that they get the best value for money for the local taxpayer,” she said and added: “Local government will dispose of assets if they are not required but, given the current financial climate, this is not a good time to sell. It needs to be local councils working with local people deciding when, or if, there is a right time to sell assets.”

Councillor Eaton also said the proposals needed to be fleshed out as it was not clear what sort of assets councils might be expected to sell. She wanted to know if these could include school playing fields, cemeteries or libraries and she asked: “If a council does not believe that a specific asset should be sold how do we avoid protracted legal wrangling that would cost the taxpayer money?”