Cheshire East Council is aiming to make big savings from empty buildings and unneeded sites by selling off surplus assets – to reinvest in frontline services.
The Council is questioning whether it should continue to own some of its buildings as more and more services are delivered by ‘working without walls’.
A new Strategic Asset Management and Delivery Plan, backed by Cabinet today (July 21), calls for the creation of a Corporate Property Board to test whether assets should be retained or sold off as surplus to requirements.
The plan sets a target of raising £25m from asset sales in 2015/16 and calls for a rationalisation programme to save a further £1m in business rates.
Council Leader Councillor Michael Jones said: “Property is the Council’s second largest cost after the staff, so future efficiency savings must use assets as a driver for change.
“We need to identify where services are best delivered, challenging the need for assets and ‘working without walls’ – where officers use mobile technology and do not have their ‘own’ desk in a council building. It’s about working smarter to deliver for our residents.”
Councillor Don Stockton, Cabinet member in charge of regeneration and jobs, said: “We want to rationalise our assets base by adopting a more strategic approach across the whole or Cheshire East.
“Our property assets need to be geared to meet the Council’s objectives of putting residents first by supporting community services in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.
“We should also look at releasing underused land and buildings to stimulate growth, regeneration and jobs.”
A report from Caroline Simpson, the Council’s executive director of economic growth and prosperity, said the new plan, which will replace one drawn up in 2009, was needed to reflect the changed circumstances in which the Council is now operating.
She said the Council would continue to use the innovative Engine of the North joint venture, which has a significant role in rationalising the Council’s estate but would review its current structure to give it sufficient capacity ‘to drive forward and deliver the challenging agenda of asset rationalisation and asset release’.
The Council owns more than 2,350 land and property assets worth a total of more than £485m, which cost £17m per annum to manage. It also has an annual capital building programme worth between £15m and £20m.
The strategy acknowledges that many of the diverse land and property assets held by the Council, such as offices, leisure centres, libraries, residential accommodation, and cultural venues are an important part of the Borough’s economic and social fabric.
It calls on the Council to reduce running costs and improve the environmental credentials of its buildings and to encourage service providers to co-locate and collaborate.
The plan says the Council should work more closely with other bodies by creating a Public Sector Property Board to help with strategic discussions about service delivery.
Cabinet today approved the plan and authorised officers to implement it.