Comment: Good to raise cash instead of cutting services

tHE idea of Harvey Nichols or Apple hiring the city council to work for it might seem risible to some people.

In fact, the cynics may want to insert their own tram joke here and get it over and done with. But the prospect is far more realistic than you might think and could play an important role in protecting our public services.

The inspiration comes from Cornwall where under the leadership of Edinburgh’s new chief executive Andrew Kerr the local council won a contract to work for Harrods, advising the famous store on the health and safety of its food.

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The number of Scottish firms, from seafood importers to five-star hotels, which need similar help must be huge. Why shouldn’t the city council offer its expert services for hire? And why should it stop with food hygiene?

Any process like this would have to be carefully managed of course to ensure staff were not forced to neglect their regular duties in favour of new money-making ventures. But the city spends a great deal of money employing experienced and highly-trained staff in a number of specialist areas. Some of them will be well-placed to win contracts from private clients or other local authorities. Where this can be done in order to create extra funds to pay for public services then we all win.

It would be naive to think that an idea like this will transform the city’s financial fortunes overnight. The reality is that only a limited number of departments are likely to be well-placed to do something like this at least in the short term. But every one which can find a way of helping to support itself will be less strain on the Capital’s public coffers.

It is a breath of fresh air to hear a senior local authority figure talking about making money rather than cutting services. It shows that with the right mindset the future of local services need not all be doom and gloom.