15 May 2007

Labour's vacant building policy just empty words

Ruth Kelly has announced that communities will be able to buy empty council buildings for just £1. These will then be available for "community use". No surprise that all is not as it seems. Councils can already discount the sale cost of properties they own when selling to the community by up to (from memory) 1/3rd - but few chose to do so. This also isn't a surprise. When councils are starved of capital funding they're not just going to give potential sources of funding away. Whilst some may want new community facilities, a lot more people want roads without holes in or schools that keep out water. Kelly is making £30m available for this wheeze - but there is no indication that this sort of central compensation will continue to be available in future. Watch out for targetting of this funding on "areas of deprivation" or more accurately "Labour marginals". Any removal of central government control on local government is welcome - and if Kelly has simply allowed councils to discount properties as much as they want to, that would be too. However CLG has a nasty tendancy to remove one set of rules and replace them with three sets of statutory guidance, BVPIs and CPA targets, so we'll wait and see. But any idea that this will lead to many new community facilities being delivered will be unrealistic without some cash to back it up.


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