A case for P&R to go it alone on property?

THERE may well be a range of responses to what appears to be welcome news today about the progress being made on the rationalisation of the States property portfolio.

An obvious one would be to be pleased that the States – finally – seems to be tackling this matter with something approaching, dare we say, ‘action’.

States property rationalisation has long been a get out of jail card for deputies looking for more revenue.

However, this update from Deputy Dave Mahoney also makes it clear that the profits from any deals are likely to be in low millions, rather than billions.

He mentions six properties shortly going on to the market from which the States hopes to realise £3m. in total? Sounds low? Hold that thought. That’s where the full clout of Policy & Resources comes in.

Deputy Mahoney says ‘we are getting things done’ and adds, tellingly: ‘We don’t want to debate it endlessly because we need to make progress.’ Immediate cause for suspicion by those wary of any P&R power grab.

P&R may cite history to argue for expediency. Some may recall the saga of a significant property sell-off from the States in the past few years – that of Belvedere House at Fort George in 2008.

This was long seen as a potential goldmine for the States, but, having prevaricated, it found itself trying to sell the property after the first signs of the global financial crisis.

Expectations of a £10m.-plus sale soon had to be revised downwards, and eventually, after considering every which way to sell for maximum value, the then Treasury & Resources Committee had to settle for £5m.

Cue immediate criticism from some who could have definitely sold the property for more. If only the committee had done it differently, sold it earlier, said its critics.

And let’s not forget the late political action which sought to scupper the sale altogether, on the basis that the 7,000 sq ft former Governor’s residence would make an ideal youth centre.

Property is one of those areas where everyone is an expert in Guernsey. Maybe if P&R is attempting to avoid wider engagement over its portfolio, on this occasion it might be practical.

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