Waitrose and Odeon Basingstoke: the costs of assets purchased by Slough Council
AMONG its large-scale sales of Slough Borough Council (SBC) assets to reduce its £680m loan debt, the four properties outside the borough are the first to go.
The council’s acting chief financial officer, Steven Mair, and his finance team, dubbed ‘Team A’, uncovered several historic accounting errors and misstatements that forced the local authority into bankruptcy and effectively report bankruptcy in July 2021.
Prior to its financial crisis, SBC purchased properties and land to create more affordable housing and obtain income from tenants to make up for the decrease in government funding caused by austerity.
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The council has around 6,700 assets worth £1.2 billion. Up to half of his properties and land must be sold to reduce his gargantuan loan debt and fill his £479million black hole.
Among the assets it has bought are four properties outside Slough, which a Freedom of Information (FOI) revealed SBC had spent over £30million on.
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These include an Odeon cinema in Basingstoke, a Waitrose supermarket in Gosport, a Wicks retail warehouse in Wolverhampton and an Expect Distribution warehouse in Bradford.
Inside FOI it was revealed that the council bought the Odeon Cinema in 2019 for £7.9million. The Wicks was bought for nearly £6.7m in 2017, the £3.5m Waitrose was bought the same year and the Expect Distribution warehouse was bought for a whopping £11, £9 million in 2019.
SBC originally thought the purchases were a good way to inject some extra cash into revenue, but council chief James Swindlehurst (Lab: Cippenham Green) has previously said the return they bring is not is “not as generous” as they were led to believe once they factor in the adjusted borrowing costs to buy them.
FOI shows SBC was earning hundreds of thousands of pounds in rental income from the properties.
The expected distribution had the highest income at £774,304 while Waitrose gave just £250,000. The council won £611,245 from Odeon cinema and £482,640 from Wicks.
Chief Commissioner Max Caller, who has been sent by the government to oversee Slough’s takeover, said they were ‘very close’ to selling the assets and expect some of the first wave properties to be sold for better than what they are valued at.
Cllr Swindlehurst has previously hinted that the Observatory House at SBC headquarters, which was bought for £39million from a company called Jersey Limited, is set to be sold.
However, FOI said the council “is not currently looking for a buyer”.
A list of the first wave of properties to be sold is expected to be presented to cabinet later this year.