Council cash shortage could have silver lining

Ian Bell
Executive Director of Bath Chamber of Commerce and Initiative
15th March 2018

News that the Council is facing serious financial challenges, which will lead to job losses is obviously very bad news for the individuals concerned. But might the situation not present us with an opportunity for a real step change?

All too often, whenever a problem arises the knee jerk response is that it’s something for the local authority to sort out. Yet actually, individuals and businesses are very capable of dealing with things without any involvement from outside bodies.

It may be that in the future, as a result of pressures on the Council budget, they are simply unable to do everything and will become more of a commissioner of services which others deliver. That may mean there will also be a need to reduce regulation and free up businesses to generate economic activity which will benefit the whole community.

Certainly members of the Chamber of Commerce and the Initiative are eager to do what they can to encourage economic growth. For example, we have pointed out for some years that Bath lacks sufficient modern office space. The Council has responded by earmarking the Quays sites as the places for the creation of much more work space and achieved Enterprise Area status to boot.

This is a really important step because national Government is allowing the local authority to hang on to a large proportion of the growth in business rates that will be charged on the new premises. So we face the prospect of a win-win situation – more office space, new jobs, fresh investment and additional income for the Council which can go to balance the books as they grapple with the ever increasing bill for adult social care.

That’s just one example of the way that commerce can contribute to the general well being of a place whilst individual businesses flourish and develop as profitable enterprises. 

Unfortunately there are times when red tape impacts on the entrepreneur. I am not advocating a free for all, far from it. But probably everyone at some stage has seen what is plainly unnecessary intervention from both local and national Government. It might just be that by being forced into concentrating on what is vital, Councils will relax their grip on other elements and we will see a burst of economic vitality.

The private and public sectors are not in a battle against one another, we recognise that we both need to work together for the best possible outcome. Wouldn’t it be ironic if financial restrictions improve the chances of that happening?

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