Land sales help plug budget gaps

Report by James Cracknell in collaboration with Bureau Local

More than £22million-worth of property and land in Enfield has been sold to help fund public services – and make up for losses in central government funding.

As part of an investigation led by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the Dispatch can reveal that Enfield Council is one of dozens of local authorities that has taken advantage of a new law that allows them to spend money raised from asset sales on money-saving schemes – including redundancies.

Chase Farm Hospital
Land at Chase Farm Hospital – seen here following its recent redevelopment – was sold by Enfield Council for £6.5m

The news comes a few days after a further cut of £18m to local services was agreed by councillors, bringing the total cuts made in Enfield over the last decade to £178m – cuts blamed by the Labour-run council on falling grant funding under various Conservative-led governments since 2010.

To help mitigate these losses in funding, since the 2016-17 financial year the government has allowed local authorities such as Enfield Council to use capital asset sales to fund so-called “transformation” projects that will help them save money in the long-term, such as investing in new technology. Previous to this, councils could only use money raised from asset sales to fund investment in new or existing property.

Among 18 properties sold by the council since this new rule was introduced is land at Chase Farm Hospital, sold for £6,457,134 as part of the hospital’s redevelopment, and two former care homes – Bridge House and Coppice Wood House – sold for £3.8m and £5.75m to residential developers.

Projects funded by the council using ‘flexible capital receipts’ includes a review of care packages for people with physical disabilities, contract and commissioning reviews, a project to reduce the costs of provision for looked-after children, a managerial restructure, and a new database for children with special needs to help “offset the cut in the educational support grant”.

The total spending by Enfield Council using flexible capital receipts, including both past and planned spending for the year ahead, is £22,727,952. At least £3m of this money was spent on making redundancies, according to data revealed under Freedom of Information laws – understood to be enough to fund around 200 job losses.

While the council has not provided a statement on its use of flexible capital receipts, it has clarified that such money has only been spent within the guidelines set out by government, and that for the upcoming 2019-20 financial year it planned to spend significantly less than in previous years.

Read the full report Sold from Under You by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
Visit thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2019-03-04/sold-from-under-you

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