This December will see the launch of a new phase of the UK government's One Public Sector Estate (OPSE) scheme. The plans could have big implications for many parties, but how will the finer details affect local authorities?
The OPSE efficiency scheme was established two years ago, and was intended to encourage efficient asset management in the public sector. A further £37 million investment from the government will accompany the launch of the scheme's third phase this month, marking its expansion to over 100 local councils working across 24 partnerships.
The rationalisation at the heart of the scheme is intended to reduce running costs and raise cash through the release of under-utilised land. This process should, in theory, stimulate economic growth via the creation of new jobs and housing.
Local authorities are expected to sell around £13.3 billion worth of land before the end of 2018, and some within the Local Government Association (LGA) agree that council-held land could be of "more productive economic use in the private sector."
Pros and cons
Official estimates suggest that the first two stages of the scheme have already led to initiatives that will create 20,000 jobs and deliver 9,000 homes over the next five years. The same period is expected to produce £129 million in property sales, and should see a £77 million reduction in running costs.
While some observers close to councils have welcomed the scheme, other commentators are rightfully wary of relying on land sales to generate income. The LGA's Richard Kemp, for instance, recently stated that: "Town halls need to treat their assets as investments...there may be better value for residents in holding onto the property."
Only time will tell if the OPSE can ease the strain on council budgets, but it’s clear that local authorities can hedge their bets and minimise assets sell-off by maximising council tax arrears recovery rates.