The leader of West Lindsey District Council has defended the decision to buy a hotel in West Yorkshire - saying that the alternative could have resulted in redundancies.
The District Council attracted criticism from some quarters after the purchase of the £2.35m hotel in Keighley, as part of an investment strategy aimed at generating income ‘to support services’ for residents living in West Lindsey.
Coun Jeff Summers wants to help residents understand the thinking behind this commercial strategy.
He said: “Whilst speaking to a lot of people in our district over recent weeks, it has become obvious most people do not understand the intricacies of financing a Local Authority - and why should you?
“We need to make our resource work for us. Three years ago, when I became the leader of WLDC, it was obvious to me we had to do things differently to survive.
“£4m of cuts in Government Funding over five years, out of a £14m budget, is quite dramatic.
“The easy way would have been to cut services and make redundancies. Not for me; when in a tight spot you work your way out of it, not dump your problem on someone else.
“All of these factors clearly directed us along a commercial route.
“Physical, financial and social benefits to our district are the three important elements of our commercial strategy in West Lindsey.
“Our investment strategy, whatever the project, must demonstrate one, two or three of the above points.
“Physical refers to improvement or new build with in our environment; financial is where we must see a financial return from our investments, an increase in our revenue stream; and with social, we want to see an increase in community cohesion within the living environment.”
Coun Summers said that WLDC 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’.
He added: “I mentioned earlier about a revenue stream, this is a fund we use to dip into to run services.
“Council Tax goes into this fund to pay for waste collection, street cleaning, antisocial behaviour and fly tipping - to name just four of over 100 service strands we deliver.
“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. WLDC has 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 are continuing to invest in our district in a variety of ways. Quite simply we are casting our net wide because opportunities in our district are limited and we must search out the best return possible.
“We have looked at several opportunities 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.
“Also, as part of our Regeneration Plan, we will be creating revenue streams from our own developments across the district.
“This is not a political statement on my behalf, but a simple explanation of how we are working.
“Finally, I would like to thank all councillors, whatever your political persuasion for the unstinting support for this program of work.”