Eric – what are you doing to me?

Come on Eric do us all a favour will you and go on holiday! There was I hoping to spend my last month as LGA Lib Dem Leader doing little and benignly wishing everyone goodbye. Then you come out with two daft statements in the course of a week!

Today’s escapade is about Total Asset Management and it sounded fine on the radio but means much less when the minds of those who know about these things are bent to the task. What you had to say this morning had 4 key flaws:

  1. It was a statement of the blindingly obvious! Do you really think that there is a council that has not been looking at its assets if not for many years for at least the last 2 or 3? Take my own council. In 1998 we worked from 23 office buildings in the city centre and now we work from 2. In Newham your pal Bob Neill criticised the council for doing what you are suggesting today. The council there went from 27 offices to just 1 making big revenue savings from day 1.
  2. As your colleague Baroness Hanham pointed out the biggest problem now is the lack of engagement from Whitehall led Ministries. We don’t want area based asset management plans for local government we need asset management plans for all government. Central government not only has its own buildings which it does not make effective use of but puts public money into a variety of buildings such as GP practices and Post Offices which are not always well located and not always in good or appropriate buildings. We need to rationalise assets across all of Government.
  3. You fail to ask the key question “Is the asset being well used on behalf of the citizens of the area?” If the use of an asset creates a profit that keeps council tax down or helps to provide a service which would not otherwise be provided then it doesn’t matter what the asset is or is being sued forward because it is part of a coherent plan. If it does not achieve either of these it should be disposed of.
  4. It is likely that because of the new power of general competence that you are giving us in the Localism Bill that we will end up as part owners of a range of buildings because we will be using our asset base to lure in private sector capital and revenue spend which would otherwise not come into our communities.

It doesn’t matter if a council owns or part owns a hotel or any other facility. The point is that we, by and large, cannot run things like hotels. It is not where our expertise lies and it is not where we should apply our intellectual efforts. But if by going into partnership with the private sector we can make things happen that otherwise would not have happened then that has to be a good thing. If we can then make a profit over time for our taxpayers so that we can invest even more money that is an even better thing. A good example of this being the Liverpool Arena which we have a capital and revenue stake in but has done so much to boost our leisure and tourism industry.

So Eric please take your hols sooner rather than later. If you could take a little time out instead of chasing cheap headlines with meaningless nonsense during the ‘Silly Season’ it would do wonders for us all – especially my blood pressure!

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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