Council invests for the future

Uttlesford District Council's programme of investments is ensuring the authority can continue to provide important services to the community, at a time when local government is facing mounting financial pressures.

Like other local authorities, the council has had to look at new ways in which to generate income as a result of the ongoing reductions in funding it receives from central government. Last year, the medium-term outlook identified an annual shortfall of £4.85m in the council's budget by 2024/25.

With limitations and restrictions on its ability to generate sufficient funding from sources such as council tax, business rates and fees and charges, the council is developing a £300m portfolio of commercial property assets.

Acquisitions have been taking place throughout the year and this has resulted in additional income that has enabled the council to put some additional resource into important initiatives. This includes £1m over three years to support the climate change agenda, £1m for Covid high street and business recovery programmes, and £450,000 over three years towards sports facilities.

Cllr Neil Reeve, Portfolio Holder for Economy and Investments, said: "At a time when many councils are struggling financially, we have managed to maintain the range and quality of services for residents and businesses. We have also been able to develop some important programmes of work.

"This has been made possible primarily as a result of the investment programme, without which the council would be facing some extremely tough choices, including stopping or reducing important services.

"The ambition is to make this council self-sufficient and to remove its reliance on government funding within the next few years. The investment programme is central in helping us to get to that stage.

"However, whilst the issue has been resolved in the short term, we must continue to look at how can be more efficient in the way we do things."

Key details about the investment programme:

In line with its Commercial Strategy, the council has acquired a number of property assets across a range of sectors (it is not investing in tenants or companies). It does this by taking out fixed rate loans, which are then repaid from the rent paid by the tenant. Uttlesford council taxpayers do not directly fund these purchases.

The council will continue to fund further investment at Chesterford Research Park, 50% of which was acquired by the council in 2017. It will also continue to look for further opportunities for investment locally, although suitable opportunities in the area are limited which is why some investments are outside the district.

Every investment opportunity follows a due diligence and governance process. This includes consideration by an Investment Board, which has two independent members. The final decision is ultimately taken by all councillors at a meeting of Full Council.

Further details about the investments can be found in the council's Commercial Strategy 2021-25.

16 March 2021

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