Show we mean business - that’s the message from Calderdale Council as it searches for ways to fill gaps in its budget.
The council has to be more commercial to offset cuts in Government cash and meet challenging budget targets, Cabinet members heard.
They backed a response-and-action plan aimed at improving the council’s commercial fortunes. But options under review include possible hire charge rises for meeting places owned by the council, and increased fees for some of the services it offers.
The report specifically examined hire charges for Halifax Town Hall with a wider review of fees and charges forming part of the budget process each year.
It found hire cost for rooms in the town hall “currently appear to be charged out at half the market rate…a full review of all charges needs to be undertaken,” say council officers.
Discretionary services may be reduced unless they can be undertaken with a separate trading arm at a profit, the report says. But it is acknowledged potential benefit to the borough’s coffers must be balanced with the effect on affected customers.
Key will be involving staff, with awards recognising good work, minimum-expense incentives such as concert tickets, and a new approach to developing their ideas more speedily - possibly among television’s Dragon’s Den lines - among proposals. More officers will train as “commercial champions”.
The council is looking at best practice in commercialisation at other councils, including award winners Watford and North Yorkshire, and its own commercialisation programme will be relaunched this summer with a higher profile.
Ideas already being developed which might earn while providing a service include potential establishment of a Pet Cemetery. Also being considered is establishment of a council trading arm, approved at full council - primarily a means of building homes but with provision to allow for activities that could provide commercial and social benefit to the council, said Councillor
Jane Scullion (Labour, Luddenden Foot), Cabinet member for resources, performance and business change.
Municipal enterprise was nothing new and built on a tradition - for example, Brighouse council once bought up a struggling gas company and ran it, benefiting citizens along the way, she said, adding that Government may soon introduce requirement for councils to show what part of their budget comes from commercial income.
Government and council were looking at balancing income generation with public service provision.