Colchester City Council axes its Amphora Subsidiary Trading Companies 

At its meeting on Wednesday 22nd November, the Council’s ruling Cabinet (exclusively Lib-Dems) decided to axe the Amphora trading companies previously set up in June 2017 by the then Joint Labour & Lib-Dem Administration.

Cllr Paul Dundas, Leader of the Conservative Group, the official Opposition at the Council, said: “despite being staffed by excellent people, the Council’s trading companies have never operated successfully. They did not know whether they were part of Local Government or the private sector. 

The Amphora Company’s ambitions have been driven by the cut-and-thrust of the private sector, but they have always had the dead hand of the Lib-Dem or the joint Labour & Lib-Dem administration holding them back. 

Very little of the profits forecast for past years have materialised into payments into the Council’s revenue account to support essential municipal services provided to taxpayers. The small dividends that have been paid come from management fees charged to the Council, a circular and tax inefficient flow.

It is now becoming clear that two of the three companies – the ones for housing and energy will have to be “hibernated”. The decision has now been made for the energy company without any understanding of the impact it would have on the Council’s finances.  It seems likely to us that much of the Council’s £1.7m loan to its energy subsidiary will have to be written off through the Taxpayers General Fund, the part of the Council’s finances which is in greatest distress.  We have asked, and await an answer.

While the Council uses the term “hibernate” so not to alarm tax-payers, it amounts to a disastrous end to what should have been a significant revenue-earning opportunity to support essential municipal services.”

Cllr Dennis Willetts, Conservative Spokesman on the Council’s trading activities. added. “The trading scope stipulated by the Council for the Amphora Companies was much too diverse. They were asked to build affordable houses, but the Council could not make sufficient funds available. The relevant assets were never transferred from the Council’s balance sheet and the schemes were still born.

They were asked to provide a green energy company for the Council’s Northern Gateway, but the Council failed to action the building of the hospital and the housing estate which would have been the Amphora energy company’s primary customers.

They were asked to run an events company, with the Council’s famous Grade 1 listed Moot Hall as its centre-piece. But the Council failed to maintain the roof in good condition, and the asset is now out of service for a further 2 years, wrecking the trading plan of the Amphora events company.

They were asked to exploit the Council’s CCTV duct-space across the town centre to provide a high-speed internet fibre-based service, but because of the strategic indecision of the Council, only 500 private customers and 80 businesses were signed up in what was described as a technically loss-making venture.

 It is a sad end to what could have been a star performer amongst Colchester’ businesses.

 Conservatives pledge never to take risks with the funds of the Taxpayers and Council tenants.