The commercial edge

Think tank: Localis

Author(s): Callin McLinden; Thomas Mills

June 17, 2021

This report from UK think tank Localis looks at renewing the case for the local investment state.

As far back as the twelfth century, we have evidence that local authorities have engaged in commercial activity effectively – benefitting residents, improving public services and generating much-needed revenue independent of central government. Jo Chamberlain’s fabled ‘gas and water’ municipalism in the 19th century showed how commercial interventions of the muscular variety could engender transformative localist ends. However, in recent years, council commercialism has become a hot button issue for the sector and the practice is under fire by newspapers and central government alike. And despite high profile instances of individual ‘bad apple’ failures, it remains true that local authorities are increasingly looking at and engaging in commercial activity as a means of generating income – and all of the management and risks that come with it. In the context of a growing local government funding gap, one which isn’t likely to close this decade, and amid a continued lack of long-term financial assurance and stability for the sector, the onus on councils to remain commercially savvy will if anything become ever more pressing. But there is a positive case to make. Undertaken with diligence, professionalism and conviction, commercialism can unlock latent place potential and deliver conspicuous and inconspicuous benefits to councils and the communities they serve. With this in mind, Human Engine and Localis have partnered up to produce ‘The Commercial Edge’ – an attempt to reframe the debate and steer the sector towards consistently strong commercial practice.