Gainsborough

Jeff Summers: Our financial challenges, commercial strategy and why we bought a hotel in Yorkshire

This story is over

Three years ago when I became the leader of West Lindsey District Council it was obvious to me we had to do things differently to survive.

£4 million of cuts in government funding over five years out of a £14 million budget is quite dramatic. The easy way would have been to cut services and make redundancies.

However, this was not an option for me. When you are in a tight spot, you work your way out of it, not dump your problems on someone else.

All of these factors clearly directed us along a commercial route.

First, we had to recruit a directorship with commercial knowledge and experience to ensure we had a sound governance structure with external professional support for structural and legal challenges.

Our investment strategy, whatever the project, must demonstrate one, two or three of the above points.

  • Physical: An improvement or new build within our district
  • Financial: A financial return from our investments, an increase in our revenue stream (i.e. finance for service provision)
  • Social: An increase in community cohesion through improved community, leisure and sporting facilities, housing and green infrastructure

I mentioned earlier about a revenue stream, this is a fund we use to dip in to to run services. Council tax goes into this fund to pay for things like waste collection, street cleaning and over one hundred other services we deliver.

As a reminder, this is how my Band D council tax for Glentham is allocated.

  • Lincolnshire County Council: £1,129.12
  • Lincolnshire Police and Crime Commissioner: £205.47
  • West Lindsey District Council: £201.24
  • Village/town council precept: £44.95

Of the £201.24 which West Lindsey retains, we provide fortnightly waste collections with 12 frontline freighters costing £160,000 each plus collection staff.

The capital account is made up of income from selling assets. This money cannot be spent legally on providing services. It is for investment only, financial or physical, investment institutions or property.

This leads me onto our decision to invest in a hotel in Keighley, Yorkshire. West Lindsey purchased the freehold with a sitting tenant who has a long-term agreement. We have no other costs after collecting the rent.

I can hear you saying it now. Why didn’t you buy in West Lindsey? We have and are continuing to invest in our district in a variety of ways.

Quite simply we are casting our net quite wide because opportunities in our district are limited and we must search out the best return possible.

We have looked at several opportunities from Lincoln to Nottingham, Mansfield, Doncaster, Sheffield and others but if they do not meet a strict 14 point list of criteria we have set, in a process which identifies which opportunities are safe and profitable, they do not go forward.

This type of investment is one facet of our long-term strategy which includes creating further efficiencies through restructure, partnership working, improvements to IT and expanding our local chargeable services within the district.

Also as part of our regeneration plan we will be creating revenue streams from our own developments across the district.