Posted: Sat 4th Nov 2023

Cash-Strapped Monmouthshire Council Offers “Flexible Working Space” to Reduce Losses at Business Park /

A CASH-STRAPPED council is hoping it can reduce losses at a business park it owns by offering part of it as a “flexible working space”. 
Monmouthshire council has managed to slash in-year spending by £2.1 million – which is short of a £2.6 million target set in July – but still predicts it will be £124,000 short of the amount it needs to cover all its costs this financial year. 
The £2.6 million target was set after its ruling Labour-led cabinet agreed it would use £2.5 million from reserves, which it had to hand as it had originally been set aside to cover an overspend last year but ultimately wasn’t needed, towards what was predicted to be a £6 million shortfall at that stage.
It has also assumed it would be awarded a further £1 million in grant funding over this year, but a report for the cabinet has cautioned “as the year progresses this assumption comes with a higher degree of risk following indications of the in-year pressures on the Welsh Government budget.” 
In October the Welsh Government announced a range of emergency spending cuts, but said the health service and transport budgets would be protected. 
Monmouthshire council has blamed inflation continuing to dog the UK economy, the hike in interest rates as a result, increased costs and new demands – including to address homelessness and provide universal free school meals – which it says haven’t been fully funded by the Welsh Government for its financial position. 
Social care, at £2.9 million, is set to be the council’s biggest area of overspend, followed by the communities and place directorate, which is set to overspend by £1.8 million with it having to absorb the cost of homelessness and free school meals. 
The cabinet report also shows a predicted £111,000 overspend at the CastleGate Business Park in Caldicot which the council bought for £7 million in 2018. 
The overspend is due to unbudgeted utility costs from vacant units, but it hopes to improve the vacancy rate and reduce the overspend by the close of the current financial year at the end of March. 
As part of that effort the council is now offering space at the business park to lone workers and firms looking for meeting venues, which it is marketing as MonSpace – a flexible working environment. 
Monmouthshire council’s deputy leader Paul Griffiths, who is the cabinet member responsible for economic development, said: “The offices at CastleGate Business Park are a great opportunity for businesses and professionals in the area.” 
The council is advertising the site’s links to the M4 and connections to Cardiff, Newport and Bristol, as well as the Midlands and that it offers free parking, including electric vehicle charging points, and a café and is also close to Caldicot Castle. 
It has said the removal of tolls on the Severn crossings make it “a prime location for cross-border companies to hold meetings and conferences” and can also be used as a workspace for home workers who want to connect with others – or those for who’ve found they don’t have enough space at home. 
CastleGate failed to produce a profit in 2022/23, which the council said was due to telecommunications supplier Mitel leaving the site in March 2022.  
That created a £1.7 million shortfall but was “largely offset by lettings and expansion of existing tenants”. 
The council also owns the Newport Leisure Park at Spytty and the revenue update to the cabinet also shows that is expected to generate a £290,000 profit above the £925,217 it repays every year to cover the cost of the £21 million loan used to purchase the site in 2019. The projected profit is still £47,000 short of the income target that had been set. 
The cabinet is due to consider the report when it meets, at County Hall, Usk at 5pm on Wednesday, November 8. ‌​‌​‌​​​‍‌​‌​​‌‌‌‍‌​‌‌​​‌​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​‌‌‌‌​​

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