A CHEESE factory, a castle and an ironworks are among the assets held by councils across Scotland, it has emerged.
Dozens of pubs, theatres, hotels and shopping centres are also held by local authorities, a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed.
Campaigners have questioned why councils are “hoarding” such commercial assets at a time of swingeing cuts to frontline services. But council chiefs insist all assets are subject to strict “best value” tests and councils face a balancing act in managing them.
Almost 200 shops are owned by councils across Scotland, according to the FOI by the TaxPayers’ Alliance. It found that councils owned eight pubs, including well known establishments in Edinburgh like the Conan Doyle on York Place and the Kilderkin on the Royal Mile. The council also owns and manages the Usher hall, but the Festival Theatres are managed by a trust.
A council spokeswoman said: “Many of the assets owned by the City of Edinburgh Council are leased out to independent businesses, including public houses and hotels, generating revenue income which in turn is invested in services and infrastructure.”
The cheese factory is owned by Dumfries and Galloway Council, while South Ayrshire owns the castle, according to the request.
Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Local authorities should be focused on essential services. The time has come for a serious discussion on what councils should, and should not, be doing – a drastic rethink which saw many of these assets returned to the private sector where some of them clearly belong would be a dramatic step towards a balanced budget and protecting taxpayers.”
It comes at a time of cuts to council budgets in Scotland. In Edinburgh alone, cuts to basic services including public toilets and leisure centres were recently rubber-stamped as the city bids to save £22 million over the coming financial year and £67m by 2017-18.
Glasgow has warned of a £100m funding black hole over the next three years.
Today’s figures also show councils in Scotland own 109 farms, 80 golf courses, 44 cafes and restaurants and more than 1,000 car parks
But a spokesman for local Government body Cosla accused the campaigners of highlighting a few “quirky examples.”
“Scotland’s councils care deeply about the services they provide to communities and by law have to present a balanced budget,” he said.
“All councils have asset management strategies in place and actively manage such issues. All council assets are subject to rigorous best-value assessments and councils have a balancing act to perform in relation to managing assets.
“The bottom line is that this is not a real or meaningful or indeed evidenced contribution to the debate from the TPA (TaxPayers’ Alliance).”
He added: “The simple fact is that this ill-thought through nonsense adds nothing to the debate.”