Uttlesford District Councillors Neil Reeve and Neil Hargreaves have responded to robustly reject claims about property investments at UDC, and that the spreading of misinformation has included the deliberate manipulation of council information
Untrue statements that are not credible
R4U’s Cllr Neil Reeve, who is also the portfolio holder for Economy, Investment and Corporate Strategy at UDC, said “To generate income which funds core services and minimises tax increases, councils can buy and let commercial property. UDC does this to create a balanced budget. There have been recent public statements to suggest that by doing so UDC is somehow ‘investing in the arms trade’. This is untrue and it is not credible that a council would do so.”
Planned tenant is component supplier to many industries
The company is a 50-year old UK engineering component manufacturer. It provides valves, hydraulic parts and control systems for many, many industrial uses, including into automotive, robotics, turbine/energy generation, general manufacturing, aerospace, and defence supply-chains. The company has received ‘Innovate UK’ grant funding for its engineering, which is reserved for the ‘best game-changing and commercially viable innovative or disruptive ideas’.”
Not ’in the arms trade’
Cllr Neil Reeve added “Many well-established companies, such as Land Rover, Rolls Royce, Siemens and Airbus, sell products to many industries, including our country’s defence industry and forces. That does not make them part of the ‘arms trade’. In turn these companies are supplied by many tens-of-thousands of component manufacturers that often supply many industries, such as UDC’s planned tenant. They are also not in the ‘arms trade’.”
“These types of component suppliers provide tens-of-thousands of well-paid jobs in the UK and keep the country at the forefront of engineering innovation. Where components are supplied to products in the defence sector, they protect our country and our forces. Good examples are Kevlar vests or hydraulic components in bomb disposal equipment as would be used by 33 and 101 Engineer Regiments at Carver Barracks. These regiments have the freedom of our district and should have access to the best equipment they need to protect us and themselves. It is inaccurate to characterise any component supplier of such as being ‘in the arms trade’.”
“It is even more inaccurate to apply that label to any organisation that provides services to those component suppliers, such as electric and water companies, canteen and food suppliers, office equipment suppliers, or landlords.”
Information deliberately doctored to smear UDC councillors
Income from diverse tenants fund High Street recovery, Climate Change and Sports Facilities
Cllr Hargreaves continued “UDC doesn’t invest in businesses or industries. UDC is the owner of commercial property that tenants pay the council to use. The council borrows money to do this at low local governmental rates – no taxpayer funds are used. The income from UDC’s property portfolio funds important council services and initiatives across the district. These include the Covid High Street and Business Recovery Programme, Climate Crisis agenda, and new sports facilities in Uttlesford. These programmes would be unaffordable without this income.
Ideally UDC would always purchase property and become a landlord inside the district, but this is not always possible because a balanced property portfolio requires a diverse range of tenants across many industries. Where UDC can’t get that diversity mix locally, it seeks property elsewhere in the UK so that it can reduce the financial risks of property ownership.”
Robust and Ethical Property Purchases
Cllr Hargreaves concluded “Commercial property purchase decisions at UDC are ethical and robust, with proposals scrutinised by the council’s cross-party Investment Board. The Board was created by the R4U led council after the previous administration riskily invested its entire property fund in a single property. The 11 board members have direct and relevant experience, and include two external members with significant property and legal experience. Additional advice is taken from the council’s professional advisors and UDC officers. Environmental and ethical matters are fully considered as part of the process.
All councillors are however the final and only decision-making body. All 39 of them are required to read, debate and weigh up any property purchase before they approve it, and so have access to exactly the same documents as the Investment Board. This process brings scrutiny, governance and an ethical lens to all of the Council’s investment decisions.”