Agenda item

Students and University Buildings

Minutes:

Officers explained that they had returned to the Scrutiny Commission to respond to questions posed at a previous Resources Scrutiny meeting on 31 October 2019 and provide Members with further information.  Members were then briefly taken through the main points in the published report. 

 

Officers said there had been a trend of businesses turning buildings into Student accommodation but more recently there has also been a trend of converting ‘business rated’ properties (offices) into student accommodation.  An example highlighted was Brunel House opposite City Hall which was previously office space and was converted into 28 Cluster flats and 41 self-contained studio apartments in 2018.

 

Officers confirmed that they do send bills to businesses and universities for the summer periods for empty accommodation.

 

Members asked if this was done by pro rata. Officers confirmed it was.  Members also wanted to know if the situation was being monitored and Officers also confirmed that it was yes.  The Council audit all exemptions every year including all single persons and every single property.  There had been some difficulties with the University of West England and GDPR but every certificate was still checked. 

 

Members said they were keen to know more about exemptions.  Officers said that the University of Bristol had been billed £6.2m on their buildings but the 80% exemption for ‘Charitable Status’ meant that it actually paid £1.1m.  

 

The Orangery in Clifton was highlighted as a good example because it is used frequently during the summer months as a private hire venue.  Also Hawthorns Café where officers said in theory the Council could have received an additional £6,000 in business rates from the University.

 

Members asked if a thorough benchmarking exercise had been carried out.  Officers said yes it had been and added that they are very thorough on all exemptions on properties.  This was a lot of work to get it all exactly right and they are audited on it afterwards as well. 

 

The Members all agreed that this had been a very clear report.  Members expressed frustrated that it wasn’t possible to collect the full amount from the universities instead of the discounted rate. 

 

It was agreed by all the Commission Members present that the charitable status of universities needed to be reconsidered.  As Members now understood it, universities operated more like business now rather than charities.  There was full cross-party agreement on this point. 

 

Members also highlighted the extra public services such as waste collection required throughout the city due to the high numbers of students. 

 

The Members recommended that there was a need to lobby the Government on this point.  It was also discussed how the Commission could to get this subject on the Core Cities agenda, if it wasn’t already. 

 

The Commission Resolved to undertake the following actions:

·       The Mayor should be presented with the same report as the Commission had received. 

·       The Chair would also send a precis of Members views on the key issues that need to be considered at wider or level, such as the charitable status of Universities. 

·       To find out if this subject is being looked at by Core Cities.

 

Supporting documents: