Laura Sharman 04 March 2019

Councils forced to sell off thousands of public spaces

Councils have been forced to sell off more than 12,000 public spaces since 2014, a new investigation has revealed.

The data, published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, found councils have raised a total of £9.1bn from selling property since 2014/15.

New rules introduced in April 2016 gave local authorities more freedom on how their spent money raised from the sale of public assets. The investigation found that since this new policy came into effect, councils in England have spent £381m made from property sales using the new freedom. A third of this £115m was spent on making people redundant.

Simon Edwards, director of the County Councils Network, said: ‘It is inevitable that councils have had to reduce highly-valued services to a minimum, with discretionary services disappearing, and new charges introduced for services ranging from black sacks to parts of social care.

‘But without taking truly tough decisions, the outlook would have been even more bleak - today’s research on the usage of capital receipts is indictive of these difficult decisions. Although some councils dispute the accuracy of the figures, if councils hadn’t used receipts from asset sales to fund statutory redundancies frontline services would have needed to be cut even further.’

The investigation showed two-thirds of councils are not fully adhering to the rules around the data they have to publish about the land and buildings they own. Some councils refused to answer the FOI request, with 36 also withholding how much the properties were sold for and who they were sold to.

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