Ashford Borough Council adopts corporate property management strategy as drive to become self-sufficient of government grants gathers pace

Ashford Borough Council, recognised as one of the most entrepreneurial local authorities in the UK, has adopted a corporate property management strategy to handle its fast-expanding asset portfolio.

The council operates like a business and has already made great strides in transforming from a traditional local authority to become a commercial organisation. Entrepreneurial thinking drives Ashford Borough Council forward as it faces up to delivering services at a time when grant funding from the government will fall to zero by 2019/20.

In recent years the business-savvy council has pursued an asset acquisition strategy which aims to build a corporate property portfolio that will contribute significantly to its income and help fund services across the whole of the borough.

The decision to adopt the corporate property management strategy to oversee this portfolio was agreed at last night’s Cabinet meeting (Thursday 12 April).

The strategy sets out the framework for managing the corporate property portfolio and will be reviewed in 12 months, and then every three years thereafter.

Five key principles

The strategy identifies five principles which are key to the council achieving its objective of protecting the value and ensuring the continued operational suitability of its corporate property portfolio.

They are:

Establishing and maintaining a shared central property asset database, crucial to enabling informed and joined-up decision making and ensuring efficient and consistent property management and reporting.

Ensure safe and efficient data management, with safeguards included to protect against input error and cyber-attack. Both of the above form an essential part of the council’s risk management strategy.

A synchronised, uniform and consistent approach to property management to ensure that recommended practices and techniques are used and standards maintained throughout the council.

Transparent and open decision making that is strategy and policy compliant. It is only in exceptional circumstances, such as commercial sensitivity or legal privilege, that information will be withheld from the public domain until announcements can be made.

Ongoing monitoring and review will ensure that the strategy continues to align with the council’s corporate aims and objectives. This will include an annual report on the financial performance of each property within the portfolio.

The strategy will include a regular review of the performance of each property to ensure it still has a place in the portfolio and where it doesn’t a disposal process will be triggered.

In considering future new acquisitions, the strategy will apply a range of stringent conditions – including the expected rate of return for each prospective new property – together with other considerations such as the creation of job and training opportunities.

Ashford’s corporate property portfolio

The portfolio includes International House (the town’s largest office block), Park Mall Shopping Centre and Wilko retail unit, the Elwick Place cinema, hotel and restaurant complex, Ellingham Industrial Estate and retail units at Stanhope.

In bringing forward the first phase of development at the Commercial Quarter, an important business hub for the south east adjacent to Ashford International Station, the council has underwritten the cost of two floors of the 80,000 sq ft office block, constructed by Quinn Estates and George Wilson Holdings. The offices are due for completion this summer.

The latest acquisition was last month’s purchase of the former Odeon Building in the Lower High Street, which is currently home to Mecca Bingo

Cllr Graham Galpin, portfolio holder for corporate property, said: “The adoption of this strategy is another milestone on our journey towards becoming a commercial, self-sufficient organisation.

“We are seeing significant returns from our acquisitions. In the 2016-17 financial year, International House delivered a return on investment of 12.6%, Ellingham Industrial Estate 12.3%, Stanhope shops 9% and Wilko 8.8%. I’m confident this new strategy will help us to continue delivering terrific results on behalf of our local residents.”

Cllr Neil Shorter, portfolio holder for finance, budget and resource management, said: “We continue to earn money through our commercial approach, rather than relying on central government or our residents for this additional income. It has helped us to set the lowest council tax in Kent once again, while maintaining services for the benefit of our residents.

“By adopting this new strategy it sends out a strong message that we are determined to continue our enterprising approach.”

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