Stevenage Borough Council is set to become a commercial enterprise after a significant new strategy was approved by councillors last week.

In the COVID-19 climate, councillors have accepted that “new thinking” is now required to plug devastating funding gaps and to protect jobs and key services.

Nadia Capuano, SBC commercial manager, said the council is facing “immediate financial risks” as income from fees and charges continues to fall, and warned councillors that “it is likely the pressures on this council’s resources will continue into the future.”

A new commercial strategy will mean that SBC will “operate in a more entrepreneurial way” which councillors have accepted is more preferable than cutting and reducing key services.

Central to the plan will be a commitment to delivering key services ‘in-house’. In-sourcing will now be the council’s “default position”, and all services currently provided by external suppliers will be reviewed to establish if better value can be achieved internally.

SBC will now proactively seek new revenue opportunities such as property investments and the purchase of local assets such as garages, allotments and the CCTV network.

Plans for an ‘innovation centre’ are still at concept level, but Ms Capuano said that a new “large co-working office and meeting space” is a good example of a “commercial project that delivers social value”.

The SBC waste team will also be looking to attract new external clients to its skip service – and plans are afoot for delivering a new ‘all-in-one’ waste service to commercial customers.

Ms Capuano said the council may need to take “more risks than in recent times” in order to achieve its ambitions, and that this may mean accepting that “not all commercial activity will deliver the anticipated returns”.

More broadly, SBC is committed to creating a newfound “commercial culture and mindset” in a bid to unlock creativity and new opportunities.

Ms Capuano added: “The council will ensure that all commercial investments, actions and decisions are ethical in nature and have a positive impact on the community. Priority will be given to ventures where there is already existing expertise, capability and knowledge.”

Council leader Sharon Taylor called the strategy a “really positive step forward for the town”.