In recent years there have been negative examples that can’t be safely hidden from view, some instances of council commercial activity that have plainly gone awry. Not citing the litany of recent well publicised debacles, it is fair to say that commercialism in the local government context has become, by dint of media exposure, an activity to be handled with the utmost of care.
But only six years ago it was order of the day. Localis itself issued a report (Commercial Councils) and you couldn’t move for industry events and seminars setting out how finance directors could seize the opportunity and unpick the impact of austerity. Now all sectors can be rather ‘bandwagonesque’ when given explicit encouragement from Government to act in a certain way. The link of causation from the coalition years is only a keystroke internet search away, if it’s been conveniently consigned to oblivion.
But in the current context of responding to COVID-19, an element of moral hazard has crept into the Marsham Street attitude. In short, Government doesn’t want to be seen to be bailing out councils which have been caught bathing without trunks when the tide came in.