Selling off assets owned by local authorities should not be a proxy for properly funded services – but having more flexibility to decide, locally, how best to manage money and property would be welcomed.

That’s the view of Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for finance Councillor Kevin Small in response to a consultation with central government about relaxing rules on what councils can do with the properties they own.

Currently it is not legal for a council like Swindon to sell off a capital asset – a piece of land, for example, or an office building, and use the money it gets to fund day-to-day spending on services such as running libraries, fixing the roads or funding social care for adults and children.

A local authority can buy a property as an investment and can use the income it receives in rent for its day-to-day revenue budget, but it can’t use the money received from sales- that money must only be used for capital projects.

But it is reported that the Conservative government will encourage councils to sell some assets in order to plug spending shortfalls after a consultation with local authorities and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities.

The Secretary of State Michael Gove is reported by The Guardian newspaper to be looking at relaxing the rules which prevent money from sales being used for revenue budgets.

The government says it believes councils hold £23 billion worth of investment properties, and it will encourage the sale of assets held only for revenue, and not buildings or places used for the "delivering of the objectives of the local authority", according to The Guardian.

Cllr Small welcomed the greater flexibility that he and officers might be afforded by a change in the rules.

He said: “If more power is given to local politicians to make local decisions about the best way to use these assets and the best way to use the money they have, then I think that’s to be welcomed.

“More flexibility in using capital receipts for services, if it is really local decisions, can only be a good thing.”

But with Swindon’s finances in a perilous state and more and more councils really struggling for cash, Cllr Small added: “Selling assets shouldn’t be used as a sticking plaster for properly funding local government services by taxation.”

Swindon Borough Council’s investment portfolio includes an office building at Cribbs Causeway commercial properties in Swindon and extensive farmland within the borough.