ST HELENS Council is looking to ramp up commercial activity to prevent further cuts to vital services.

Local authorities across the UK have been increasingly engaging in commercial activity as they look to become financially self-sufficient.

By 2020, St Helen Council will have seen its funding slashed by £90 million over the ten-year period.

READ > St Helens Council staff increasingly targeted for abuse online

The council has proposed a 3.99 per cent council tax rise for 2020-2021 – including a 2 per cent adult social care precept – to generate an extra £3 million.

But moving forward, if the council is to become financially self-sufficient as the government intends, it will need to look at new ways to bring in funds.

St Helens Council leader David Baines said looking at new ways to generate income has been a focus of the council since he became leader last May.

This work, he said, will be bolstered by a new assistant director for commercial activity, part of the ongoing restructure of the council’s senior management team.

“As councils are forced to rely less and less on central government funding, it’s only right we look at new ways of generating income which we can use to continue to provide quality,” Cllr Baines said.

“Many councils are ahead of us in doing this, but since coming into post last May, myself and Cllr Martin Bond (cabinet member for finance), and my whole cabinet, have made this a priority.

“The new management structure we’ve introduced will create a dedicated assistant director for commercial activity role, and every cabinet member and their department are working to develop proposals for generating income and making the most of every opportunity.”

Cllr Baines said some of the ideas being discussed are things such advertising on roundabouts to pay for improved maintenance of those sites.

LED screens for advertising local businesses and promoting events could be deployed on major routes into the borough.

Cllr Baines also said the council may look to make “larger investments” in order to generate returns which can then be invested in services.

The Labour leader insisted the new commercial ventures won’t mean that residents will be charged for services.

The focus on commercial activity was mentioned several times at the council’s overview and scrutiny commission earlier this week.

St Helens Star: St Helens Council leader David BainesSt Helens Council leader David Baines

Caroline Barlow, director for customer and digital, said the council will look to bring in “dedicated support” to allow it to “exploit” commercial opportunities.

“It’s not just about finding savings – it’s about generating revenue as well,” said Cllr Martin Bond, cabinet member for finance.

“That’s something that I think, personally I would like us to focus on next year.

“It’s not all about cuts.”

READ >Labour councillors slam opposition after cross-party budget group falls flat

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Bond said the council’s one-year funding settlement, which was confirmed by the government last week, does not alleviate the “significant pressures on funding”.

Cllr Bond said sustainable long-term funding solution is needed to allow the council to deliver medium to long term-plans and be “financially resilient”.