Can weddings, conferences and carbon-neutral electricity help Lancashire County Council offset funding cuts?
A pair of councillors who were part of an investigation into how Lancashire County Council could make money from the buildings it owns say the authority is still missing out on opportunities.
County Hall’s response to a task group report into income generation was described as “disappointing” and “tardy” by two of the members who helped write it.
A meeting of the council’s internal scrutiny committee heard that a third party organisation will be appointed to identify money-making possibilities and a marketing manager has already been brought in to promote potential money-spinners, like wedding venues.
But Labour task group member Steve Holgate said the authority was failing to make the most of obvious assets like the Woodlands Conference Centre in Chorley, which has been disused since it stopped hosting council training events three years ago.
“This is a very commercially attractive area and [Woodlands] is a big site doing nothing. It may actually be costing us in terms of maintenance - this is a very tardy approach,” County Cllr Holgate said.
“Those of us who volunteered for the task group were excited [at the prospect] of coming up with a means of commercialisation which would enable us to take some of the sharper edges off the cuts there have been [in council spending].”
The authority’s director of financial services, Neil Kissock, told the meeting that the investment needed to improve the Woodlands venue would mean that it was unlikely to be “viable” as a conference facility.
Another councillor who sat on the task group, the Liberal Democrat David Whipp, said the income generation report had been “ambitious, if realistic” - and suggested the council needed more staff to be able to make revenue-raising opportunities a reality.
Neil Kissock described that as “fair point”, adding: “We have been reduced in capacity and we may need staff resources to take [projects] forward.”
However, a task group recommendation to use council buildings and land for renewable energy generation was rejected on the basis that a study back in 2013 showed there were no “viable opportunities”, because of the nature of individual sites.
But Conservative member, Edward Nash, said that it was possible to house green-powered storage generators on council land and “make money when the wind doesn’t blow”.
Meanwhile, papers presented to the meeting reveal that income from weddings could soon increase. The recently reopened Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster and - subject to National Trust approval - Gawthorpe Hall in Burnley are both set to be registered as venues for nuptials.
Lancaster and Clitheroe castles each played host to eight weddings over the past twelve months.
The authority has also entered the global market for school curriculum resources, with a deal planned to distribute support materials developed here in Lancashire to more than a hundred schools in Nigeria.