Editor’s column: Is it right for your council to compete against private firms?

Roger Hawes
Roger Hawes

A few weeks ago Bucks Herald Business Eye writer Alex Pratt highlighted how Aylesbury Vale District Council was diversifying and using council tax subsidy in helping to promote and get faster broadband speeds to the Vale’s villages.

However whilst I applaud the council for its diversification for the benefit of the community, the question must be asked is it right to compete against private firms doing the same thing?

Of course AVDC will argue that by pursuing profit for its enterprises it protects vital community services facing cuts in funding.

Point taken but I am not yet entirely convinced it is the right approach as diversification often leads to distraction from what you do best.

It should also be remembered the private sector, whilst striving to provide services in a competitive environment, does not benefit from tax payers subsidy however short term that may be.

Also private companies are the life blood of communities, paying taxes and employing people living or dying by its success, the same cannot be said for a council.

Further evidence of how AVDC is moving forward with its plans comes with the announcement the council is considering launching a new Limited company to provide ‘for profit’ consultancy services, initially on energy and sustainability services, but with ambitions to cover other lucrative consultancy services as well.

AVDC’s chase for profits is in line with other councils facing big cuts in government grants. So the thinking is pretty fair minded taking into account the financial constraints AVDC will be facing in the coming years.

AVDC already competes against the Bucks Herald in a small arena when it publishes its Aylesbury Vale Times community magazine which now contains paid for advertising, taking away potential revenue from this paper.

Small beer in real terms but should a council really be acting as a publisher too unfairly competing for business.

There is already a property arm of the council which owns and rents commercial property like the new University Campus Aylesbury Vale and Friars Square shopping centre. Oh, and let’s not forget our superb Waterside Theatre which cost more than £45m.

So the burning question is should AVDC stick to what it is good at, providing vital services to its residents, or competing with a big advantage in the free market?

For me the jury is still out but I guess it’s a question of how you expect your council to act. Don’t forget they exist entirely for the good of the community.

Why not share your views with the editor and write a letter for publication via email at roger.hawes@jpress.co.uk