From pigeon lofts to nightclubs: The unusual properties owned by councils

FoI requests show councils own hundreds of pubs, restaurants and hotels

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British councils own hundreds of pubs, restaurants and hotels - and even two nightclubs - according to nationwide research from the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

The huge variety of assets owned by local authorities has been revealed by Freedom of Information requests from the lobby group, which believes they should be sold off to plug any funding gaps. But councils say they are banned from selling assets to pay for day-to-day services.

The national research showed councils own 580 restaurants, 378 pubs, 191 shopping centres, 7,294 shops and 174 hotels. It also revealed some more bizarre properties on local authority books, including a wet fish stall in Thanet, a cheese factory in Dumfries and Galloway and nightclubs in Bristol and Harlow, Essex.

Other unusual portfolios include Copeland Borough Council’s, which includes pigeon lofts and a betting office. Gravesham Borough Council owns a model railway and Thurrock Borough Council is the landlord for a bookies and a supermarket.

The report comes as central Government cuts to local authority budgets mean many face putting up council tax to make the books balance.

Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: “What possible business does a council have owning a nightclub? It looks deeply hypocritical for councils to plead poverty as an excuse for hiking Council Tax when they've got such a huge asset portfolio. Local authorities should be focussed on essential services.

“The time has come for a serious discussion on what councils should, and should not, be doing - a drastic rethink which saw many of these assets returned to the private sector where some of them clearly belong would be a dramatic step towards a balanced budget and protecting taxpayers.”

However, the Local Government Association called the report from the lobby group “misleading” because assets cannot be sold to fund everyday services. Shops and pubs are often owned by local authorities because they are part of fabric of housing blocks, civic centres or leisure facilities, having been provided either to support a sustainable community or to enable the facility to pay its own way. Some hotels could also fall into this category.

Councils also say they often own assets such as shopping centres because it allows them to manage their town centres better.

An LGA spokeswoman said: “Councils are banned from spending the money they make from selling their assets to pay for day-to-day services. Assets fund regeneration, housing and jobs for communities, improve the quality of life for residents and help keep down council tax.

“Many assets were built as part of housing developments and are integral to providing the essential shops and amenities communities rely on. In many cases, councils will own the land facilities are built on and not the facilities themselves.”

According to the LGA, councils are expected to sell £13.3 billion worth of land and property between 2015 and 2018, more than twice government's proposed £6 billion between 2015 and 2020.