There comes a time in the life of almost all of us when we are compelled to take control of our destiny and stand on our own two feet. This is just as true for organisations, of course, as it is for individuals.
Mind you, unless you’re living off-grid like a desert island castaway, it’s nigh-on impossible in today’s intricately-connected world to provide all of the things you need for living or doing business without the help of somebody else! Hands up, anyone who would be happy taking their chances like Robinson Crusoe! [Cue tumbleweed.]
In my previous article I talked at length about the council’s finances in a period of continuing austerity and government reductions, and how our success attracting substantial amounts of new external funding is enabling us to deliver additional services and schemes that serve to make a positive difference in our community.
Consider this here blogpost Part B of that previous article – because I want to continue the theme of what we are doing as a council to outrun one of the deepest and most prolonged periods of austerity this country has ever known…
One major consequence of the Government continuing to reduce local authorities’ purse-strings is that councils can expect to operate with a far greater degree of autonomy in future, being empowered to function on a more commercial basis that will allow us to pursue new sources of revenue, increase income, boost innovative practices and drive greater efficiencies.
It goes without saying, if Colchester Council is to ultimately stand on its own two feet after the Government ends our Revenue Support Grant in 2019, that we must manage to do so in ways which enable us to continue and even increase investment and spending in the provision of key services.
And I’m delighted to say we’re way ahead of the curve when it comes to looking at every available option to deliver on our promise to protect vital services, promote business, attract inward investment and create more growth in the Borough – not least through the formation of a number of new commercial companies.
You’ll get to hear a great deal more about these new companies, in the coming weeks and months, but now seems like a good time to tell you a little bit more about them…
Firstly, this is about the council continuing the journey to being ready for the changing Public Sector landscape. Five years ago, we could only have dreamed about what we’re now doing commercially with the creation of Colchester Commercial Holdings Ltd – the parent company I also head-up as Managing Director – and its subsidiary companies Amphora Trading, Amphora Housing and Amphora Energy.
Their formation is a continuation of what began in 2010 with a change in Government and its decision to pursue a course of austerity – a policy which has obliged us to look at becoming even more commercial in future so we can put back into the Public Sector-side and continue to deliver services that otherwise might not be provided in a more austere economic climate. Put simply: we have had to look to become much smarter and more commercially-minded with money, in order to generate the funds that will enable us to stand on our own two feet after 2019.
Any income generated by these new commercial companies – which are preparing to go live on 1 April and are wholly-owned by Colchester Borough Council – will be returned to the council for the benefit of local people.
The new commercial companies are:
- Colchester Amphora Trading Ltd (firstname.lastname@example.org), which will offer a range of direct professional services, to both public and private clients, including property and development consultancy services, events management that you already know as the Colchester Events Company, Helpline (an emergency alarm service: 01206 769779 / https://helplineplus.co.uk/) and provision of Ultrafast broadband.
- Colchester Amphora Homes Ltd (email@example.com), which will be focused on building high-quality homes for sale and rent, and is committed to delivering affordable homes for local people. The company will work to support the Borough’s regeneration and economic development objectives.
- Colchester Amphora Energy Ltd (firstname.lastname@example.org), which will provide a district heat network project initially at North Colchester and provide heating to the buildings soon to be built up there, deliver other energy-saving schemes to businesses in the future and promote more low-carbon sources of heat and power choices for Colchester.
This may seem a million miles from the way we traditionally think about councils and how they operate, but like Robinson Crusoe thrown back upon his own resources, it is imperative we become much more self-sufficient in order to meet the increasing challenges that further austerity measures will almost certainly bring over the next five years and beyond.
I am determined this renewed emphasis on commercial opportunities will see us create a modern structure for the council – one that is fit for the 21st century, more agile both fiscally and politically, yet which retains a Public Sector ethos that is able to protect vital services and ensure all profits return to the people of Colchester.
With a more efficient management structure in place, we already expect to deliver more than £200k per annum savings for the council each year, which will help to plug future deficits.
I want to be absolutely clear: this is not to be mistaken for a ‘commissioning council’ model, where profits return to external contractors and beneficiaries. In this case, every single penny in profits our new companies make will return to the people of Colchester by continuing to provide the good quality public services expected. And while we’re not just doing this to save money – as necessary as this is – we’re also doing it because it will be the right thing for Colchester in the long run. It’s about providing the best and the most efficient services for the people of the Borough.
We know that local government is already the most efficient public provider of services in the country – second to none. Nevertheless, looking to the future, it is clear all councils will have to adapt and change if we are to continue to deliver those services that residents rightly expect and deserve.
I am determined that this will not compromise our service to residents or the principles of equal and fair pay and conditions for staff, but will allow us to meet the changing needs of Colchester.
And that means, whether we like it or not, standing more and more on our own two feet.