New “Business Incubator” service launched
New “Business Incubator” service launched

Eighty-five councillors and senior local government managers from across the East of England came together at the Moller Centre in Cambridge on Thursday 1st December to explore and understand the idea of “The Commercial Council”. 

The event saw the launch of a joint approach to the “Business Incubator” between Essex County Council and the East of England LGA which will take its first cohort in the New Year.

With traditional sources of local government finance under pressure, councils are increasingly using more commercial practices to support their ongoing revenue budgets.  

Introducing the event, Councillor Robin Howe, Leader of Huntingdonshire District Council, explained how his council has embraced this – generating income from traded services, making other services more efficient and providing some in partnership with private sector companies. His comments on the importance of developing the right organisational culture were picked up enthusiastically by both Phil Ruck and Malcolm Morley, the Chief Executives of Brentwood and Harlow Councils respectively.

Phil described the need to place culture change “at the heart of a commercial future” but more importantly to place “leadership at the heart of culture change”. Picking up the theme, Malcolm advised on the need for realism when considering commercial opportunities and also to accept that it takes time to get things right, particularly embedding the necessary commercial thinking.
Speaking from the experience of having been through the commercialisation process with their councils, both Graham Lewis, Commercial Manager at Colchester, and Steven Halls, Chief Executive of Three Rivers, provided delegates with some sound practical advice – both how to maximise the opportunity and some pitfalls to watch out for along the way.

A series of seminars and workshops across the rest of the day provided an insight into balancing profit and social value, understanding the legal framework around local authority trading, writing a commercial business case, managing people and change, getting partnerships right, improving your sales and marketing and balancing risk and reward. Copies of all of the presentations from the event are available on the East of England LGA web-site at -

With more of these commercial opportunities and trading companies being developed at their council over recent years, Essex County Council’s Traded Development team created their own “Business Incubator” process which it has used both to test the viability of commercial propositions and to up-skill those staff tasked with delivering them. Caroline Adlem, Head of Traded Development at Essex, talked delegates through the Business Incubator, which is delivered as a series of Masterclasses and culminates in a two-day “Assessment Centre”. The Business Incubator provides a mix of practical training and mentoring and generates a very real outcome at the end - an improved Business Plan or fully-formed business development idea, for example.

Starting in February 2017, Essex County Council and the East of England LGA will be co-hosting a cohort of the Business Incubator, available for all East of England LGA member organisations to buy into. Councils can send one or more of their fledgling or developing “businesses” to participate in the process, with space for between 3 and 5 participants per business. The cost for councils to secure a place on the pilot programme will be £10,000 per business – with at least one council signing up on the day of the event itself and several others expressing an interest, the places are expected to sell out fast.

If you are interested in the Business Incubator, then please contact Eddie Gibson at the East of England LGA for more information – or 01284 758310.