Slough Council denies selling of properties as “fire sale”

A FINANCE boss has denied the council is engaging in a “fire sale” of up to £600m in properties to plug its financial hole.

Slough’s chief finance officer Steven Mair presented a report known as the ‘debt repayment/asset disposal strategy’ to senior councillors at a cabinet meeting on Monday, September 20.

It lays out how the council will have to sell assets worth up to £600m over the next five years to reduce its financial pressures and make its borrowing “more manageable”. This is to be done by minimising its borrowing debt of £760m to about £335m by 2027.

The strategy also suggests the council sell up to £200m worth of property and land within the first two years to finance capitalisation directions from government, which would allow the council to fund its revenue expenditure from capital including receipts and borrowing.

READ MORE: Slough Council will sell £600m-worth of assets to plug financial hole

It was heard “nothing is exempt” as the council assess every asset to see whether or not to dispose of it.

Originally, the council asked for a capitalisation direction of £15.2m in its budget earlier this year but that has sharply risen to £200m, which is nearly 13 times higher.

The council has to go down this route and sell some of its 6,700 assets, which have a total value of £1.2b, after it temporarily froze all non-essential spending in July to get grip on its crippling finances.

Cabinet members gave the go-ahead for officers to seek to bring in “external specialists” to deal with the operational aspects of disposing of the assets. It is not known which specialists and how much it will cost.

READ MORE: Slough Council could ‘downsize’ services and staffing

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Wayne Strutton (Haymill & Lynch Hill), leader of the opposing Conservatives, sought assurance from the finance officer that the council will get best value from selling off its assets.

He said: “It doesn’t feel like this is really getting as much planning in looking at these assets and selling them and preparing for the huge pressures of debt repayment, loan renewals, and everything else this authority is facing.”

Mr Mair denied they were engaging in a quick sale of properties.

Steven Mair (right), the councils chief finance officer

Steven Mair (right), the council’s chief finance officer

He said: “We’ve tried to be extremely clear that is not a fire sale, this is not a quick sale, and that we must absolutely ensure best value in everything that we do, and we have some real experts on it.

“We will procure further experts to make sure that the council does get the best value it can. There are desires to sell in an appropriate manner and get the money in, but the most important thing is to get the council’s best value.”

Mr Mair also stressed the £600m is a potential figure and is an option to pay off debt and capitalisation.

Cllr Strutton also raised concerns if the council will sell off its parks and its housing stock to balance its books.

It was heard parks will be untouched and tenants in council-owned homes are in a “very stable situation” and “will be protected”.

Slough Observer | News