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Gloucestershire Business News

Guildhall privatisation idea shot down as Gloucester City approves £17.68m budget

Proposal to privatise cultural services in Gloucester and spend £564,830 on temporary pods for homeless people has been roundly rebuffed.

Horrified councillors said the suggestion to sub-let the Guildhall And Blackfriars to outside companies was "naive" and "totally wrong".

The move was suggested at the budget meeting on Thursday (Feb 22) by Cllr Alastair Chambers (Ind Con, Coney Hill and Matson) who said the venues were "haemorrhaging" money which would be better spent on housing services.

He wanted money taken from the two venues and used for 10 emergency housing newbuild pods, built by serving offenders and ex-offenders in Gloucester and offering yearly electric and heating bills of around £350.

The council has been struggling to cope with the number of people in need of temporary accommodation in the city.

Homelessness prevention costs of £650,000 have been cited as a "key pressure" for 2024/25, alongside interest on borrowing and external audit fees.

The council's £17.68m budget was approved by a majority vote at the meeting, with council tax raised by 2.99% to help ease the strain.

It will result in an average band D property owner being charged 12p more a week and paying £4.42 for services provided by the city council.

The local authority will collect £9.065m in council tax- £333,000 more than last year and retain £7.2m in business rates

It will plug a £307,000 shortfall with £300,000 of efficiencies and money from its general reserves.

Cllr Chambers said instead of "raiding earmarked reserves" the council should outsource culture, which is not a statutory department, to help pay for improvements to vital services such as housing and waste collection.

His budget amendment said the cultural portfolio costs taxpayers £2.2m each year with the Guildhall and Blackfriars expected to run at a loss for two more years.

"That's lot of money the council is putting in when people are struggling." he added.

"My motion is for the city council to sublet these premises to private businesses so that a profit can be generated for the business, they can be run successfully by a private director and the premises can be fully maximised for the community."

Conservative, Liberal Democrats and Labour councillors all shot down the proposal.

Cllr Andrew Lewis (C, Quedgeley Severn Vale), cabinet member for culture and leisure, said consultants had analysed culture and said it was best "in-house".

"Culture gives us a vibrant city. It's a necessity which drives this community.

He said the Arts Council had awarded grants of £500,000 to the Guildhall over the last three years and had promised a further £1m over the next three years and it would be impossible to find a company to invest the same.

"Culture is a vital part of the structure of our city and we should not be thinking of hiving it off to other companies.

"Cutting culture at a time of growth in this city is so short-sighted and naive. I find it very very sad that people are thinking this way. It's totally wrong that progress made over the last 10 years should be thrown away."

The motion was voted down but Cllr Stephanie Chambers (c, Quedgeley Fieldcourt), cabinet member for planning and housing strategy, revealed the council was investigating the idea of using pods as temporary accommodation.

"We are looking at options to utilise more modular relocatable homes in our city through our capital expenditure program and acquisition program," she said.

"We are working with various partners and looking at local suppliers of the pods which can provide some good homes through a local company.

"I look forward to working on this project to provide a quick and viable solution for people living in temporary accommodation."

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