I am becoming increasingly concerned about East Cambridgeshire District Council’s Shareholder Committee. This is the committee of councillors whose role is to represent the council’s interests in the operation of the council’s two trading companies.
The March meeting of the Shareholder Committee was cancelled ‘for lack of business’. The informal March meeting of the board of East Cambridgeshire Trading Company was also cancelled. This is extraordinary considering the amount of money tied up in the trading company (a loan facility of £5M from the council, the full extent of which is being called on by the trading company earlier than planned), and the potential risk of the house-building and property development ventures in which the company wants to be engaged.
With government grants being cut, inflation rising, demand for services increasing, and the choice of the council not to increase council tax, the council is placing greater and greater expectations on ‘commercialisation’ and in particular on future trading company profits to keep priority services alive.
The trading company is already considering the level of risk it is prepared to accept to grow the property development arm of the business. This has implications for the council (and public money) as well as the company.
Meanwhile, the £5M ‘cap’ the council has reinforced on its loans to the trading company is beginning to constrain the council’s and the company’s ambitions. In particular, it is being said that the Community Land Trust in Haddenham, recently granted planning permission, is being held up by this limit. Will the council, and the company, be looking elsewhere for funding for the company?
It is surprising and disturbing that shareholder and board meetings are being cancelled on the grounds that there is nothing to discuss, while such significant issues have not yet been properly debated in public by the council.