Cash-strapped Leeds City Council to sell off private number plate as critics estimate value at £300k

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A private number plate that adorns the Lord Mayor’s car could soon be up for sale, after critics insisted it should be flogged.

The flashy registration – that bears the characters ‘U1’ – has been in the ownership of Leeds City Council for more than 100 years.

But it could soon be auctioned off, as the council tries to pull itself out of a “dire financial position”.

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Some have argued that the authority should be getting rid of its expensive assets like the number plate to make cash, rather than selling off buildings like Rothwell’s old council offices.

Leeds City Council is considering the sale of the private 'U1' registration plate, that some say could be worth £300,000. Photo: James Hardisty/Leeds City Council.Leeds City Council is considering the sale of the private 'U1' registration plate, that some say could be worth £300,000. Photo: James Hardisty/Leeds City Council.
Leeds City Council is considering the sale of the private 'U1' registration plate, that some say could be worth £300,000. Photo: James Hardisty/Leeds City Council.

The council confirmed in a press release today (January 19) that it is considering a sale of the number plate.

Just two days ago, top councillors were pressed over the value of the registration at a meeting in Civic Hall.

Lib Dem Coun Conrad Hart-Brooke, who represents Rothwell, wanted to know whether enquiries were being made about a potential sale to alleviate what he described as the “dire financial position”.

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Responding, Coun Debra Coupar, the deputy leader of the council, said: “The scale of the pressures on the council’s financial position, combined with the gap over the next three years and continued uncertainty concerning central government funding, is unprecedented.

"In common with local authorities throughout the country, to balance the council’s budget, difficult decisions are needing to be taken including assessing the potential for asset disposals. However, such disposals will not be sufficient on their own to meet the severity and seriousness of the financial challenge facing the council, particularly the need to reduce recurring revenue expenditure.”

She added: "We’re currently consulting on the budget proposals for the coming financial year and the disposal of U1 is not currently within those proposals. However, as we face yet another challenging year, with the government yet again failing to provide adequate funding for vital council services, nothing is off the table. We are looking at absolutely everything to make the savings needed to ensure we can continue to provide frontline services for the people of this city.”

The number plate comes with a great deal of history. It was purchased by Rowland Winn, a motoring pioneer and founding member of the Automobile Association in 1903 – and it was the very first number plate to be issued in Leeds.

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When Mr Winn’s friend Arthur Currer Briggs became the Lord Mayor of Leeds that same year, he gifted the U1 plate to him to use on the civic vehicle, and it has been used by Lord Mayors of Leeds ever since.

Mr Winn, one of the city’s first car dealers, was himself later elected Lord Mayor of Leeds from 1938 to 1939. He retired from public life in the 1950s and was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1956.

The council confirmed today that it has consulted with industry experts and that the U1 plate could fetch a substantial amount. A spokesperson said the potential sale would be subject to consultation before it would be finalised.

If the decision to sell the plate is approved, a private dealer will be appointed to act on behalf of the council. It is estimated a sale would take around three months to complete. The number plate would then be replaced on the Lord Mayor’s car by another owned by the council with the registration ‘L6EDS’, which it said is “substantially less valuable”.

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Talk of the sale comes a month after a dramatic series of cost-saving measures were unveiled by Leeds City Council, including ending the lease on a well-loved museum, doing away with care homes, and introducing car parking charges at popular attractions like Roundhay Park.

The measures – that have yet to be officially signed off – would help the council set a balanced budget, which is a legal requirement. It must save almost £60m in the next year, alongside £7.4m of already agreed savings. Without setting a balanced budget, it would effectively be declaring bankruptcy.