DUE to government funding cuts, West Berkshire Council has been looking to commercial activity to find extra income. 

It set up a group in August 2018 to organise the commercialisation and introduce a business-minded culture. 

Staff across the council are encouraged to come up with ideas and concepts, which they can present to the ‘Lions’ Lair’ — similar to the TV show Dragons’ Den. 

Some ‘commercialisation templates’ include the West Berkshire lottery, hosting weddings at Shaw House, and producing energy. 

Read more: West Berks takes out £100 million debt to invest in commercial property

The largest area of existing income from traded or commercial activity is car parks, which collect £4 million a year, according to Andy Sharp, executive director of people. 

He said some of the risks of commercialisation include failing to meet this year’s target to raise £100,000, and the ‘inability to monitor the financial impact’ of the programme. 

The overview and scrutiny management commission — which scrutinies decisions and policies of the council — will review how commercialisation has gone so far at a meeting on the evening of October 29. 

In a report to that meeting, Mr Sharp said: “Services may be investing resources in projects that are at a net cost to the council due to a mixed understanding of the financial arrangements and drivers behind commercialisation. 

“The level of financial risk associated with existing income targets is not sufficiently communicated.”

The commercialisation group has hired a marketing officer to promote the projects — costing £52,000 a year.

According to the National Audit Office (NAO), commercialisation brings problems with transparency, new skills, and greater complexity. 

An NAO report from January this year said making decisions on commercially sensitive issues is challenging transparency. Auditors said fewer commercial exemptions should be used in public reports. 

On new skills, the report said commercialisation puts pressure on staff and auditors ability to understand the risk of these schemes. 

And on complexity, it said councils need ‘to ensure that governance and accountability are clear at the point these arrangements are entered into, and that ongoing oversight is effective’.