'District council business ventures need proper scrutiny'

Opposition councillors have spoken out over Aylesbury Vale District Council setting up taxpayer-funded business ventures.

Thursday, 26th May 2016, 6:00 am
Cllr. Llew Monger

Lib Dem councillor Llew Monger, and Labour’s Mark Bateman got in touch with The Bucks Herald this week to make their feelings known.

In a bid to generate revenue in the wake of government cuts the council has started a number of small businesses, with funding coming from the taxpayer.

These include a new subscription-style service called Limecart and an internet provider Incgen.

In the council’s drive to become more commercially minded they have commissioned a £500,000 review of staffing and the way the authority opperates.

But key opposition members feel that the council is being heavy-handed and not transparent enough.

Councillor Mark Bateman presented an ammendment to the motion to commission the study at last week’s full council meeting.

It read: “The Conservative majority on AVDC seem so self assured, arrogant even, that they are this (as one councillor put it) ‘example, trendsetting council,’ they are losing sight of the fact that they are elected members of a public, local authority.”

Speaking after the meeting he said: “New ways of raising money to provide local services are glaringly obvious thanks to the government that these local Conservatives so keenly support.

“Commercial activity has got to be one of these. All that was being suggested was ensuring that elected council members (and the residents) are assured that council resources are being used effectively.

“Perhaps the notion of a cabinet in local councils isn’t the best way to ensure local accountability and provide governance that includes proper layered scrutiny of decisions made.”

Councillor Llew Monger also voiced his concern about the venture during the debate.

And speaking to this newspaper after the meeting he said: “I don’t have a problem with commercially minded activities, but unlike private companies they need to be accountable in a different way.

“For a start these commercial organisations need to make a business plan which has not been done. They need to do financial forecasting, atthe moment we are getting nothing.”

Cllr Steve Bowles, deputy leader of AVDC and it’s commercial arm, said: “Limecart and Ingen are central to AVDC’s commercial vision which will ensure the council is able to provide key services to residents after the government grant had gone. The council is still working on developing this model and the £500,000 approved last week was to fund the next stage of this income generation and cost reduction work.

“As with all commercial ventures you have to spend money to generate money and the robust scrutiny we have in place on the allocation of these funds is tried and tested.

“Members are given every opportunity to stay up to date with the Commercial AVDC programme and raise issues and objections for council and scrutiny consideration where they feel necessary. Furthermore, we hold workshops for members to hear and discuss the latest developments.” council’s commercial ventures.

We have to change and adapt from the old council model. This will come as a shock to some people, but if we don’t start to generate our own income, to be frank we would soon not have the finances to provide the services our residents both deserve and expect. That is why we at AVDC are looking at this new business model to ensure that we continue to deliver efficient, high quality services to our residents and businesses.”