Making better use of community assets

One of the ways that communities can be empowered is by owning and managing assets - land, buildings, community facilities, parks, street markets, swimming pools. Not only can this result in a community-owned revenue stream but it also brings people from different backgrounds together around projects that benefit the community and helps to develop skills, confidence and expertise. It is anticipated that local authorities and Local Strategic Partnerships will adopt a strategic approach to community asset ownership.

In 2007 the Quirk Review concluded that there is currently too little ownership and management under community control and communities are losing out as a result. It recommended that there should be much greater access for local authorities and community organisations to expert advice and organisational development support relating particularly to the transfer and management by communities of land and buildings - since the barriers to asset ownership are generally to do with ignorance about what is possible and a reluctance to devolve control to community groups.

Specifically, the Review made five recommendations all of which were accepted by Government in 2007. The Government wanted to increase the number of people engaged in the running and ownership of local services and assets so that 'in every locality a proportion of all public assets are in the ownership or management of sustainable and energetic community organisations'.

Quirk Review: five recommendations accepted by Government:

  1. The publication of comprehensive, up-to-date and authoritative guidance on all aspects of local authority asset management, including within it detailed and explicit guidance on the transfer of assets to community management and ownership
  2. The publication of a toolkit for local authorities and other public bodies on risk assessment and risk management in asset transfer to communities
  3. The provision of much greater access for local authorities and community organisations to expert advice and organisational development support relating particularly to the transfer and management by communities of land and buildings
  4. The smarter investment of public funds designated for community-led asset-based developments, where permissible, through the involvement of specialist financial intermediaries with expertise in the field and the ability to achieve high leverage ratios
  5. A major campaign to spread the word, through seminars, roadshows, training, use of the media, online and published information, and the dissemination of good practice, as well as promotion of 'bottom up mechanisms' such as the proposed Community Call for Action (CCfA) and the existing Public Request to Order Disposal (PROD).

In support of this, there was a programme of awareness raising and capacity development with community groups, measures in the Community Empowerment White Paper, Communities in Control. These measures and approaches were intended to enable people to own and run services for themselves include:

  • establishing an Asset Transfer Unit through partnership between CLGGlossary: is a shortened name for the central government of Communities and Local Government and the Development Trusts Association to provide advice on community ownership in order to increase activity in this area
  • requiring stronger accountability to the community in relation to under-used assets owned by local authorities
  • putting in place a national framework to support Community Land Trusts (CLTs)
  • establishing a new Social EnterpriseGlossary: A social enterprise is a profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need Unit to champion the role of social enterpriseGlossary: A social enterprise is a profit-making businesses set up to tackle a social or environmental need models in delivering Communities and Local Government's strategic objectives, by recognising their contribution in areas such as housing, regeneration and creating empowered and cohesive communities
  • establishing a new Empowerment Fund.

The Coalition government, through the Localism Bill, published in December 2010, intend to introduce the following community 'rights':

  • The Community Right to Buy - powers for communities, to help them save local facilities threatened with closure. It is intended that community organisations will have a fair
    chance to bid to take over assets and facilities that are important to them. These
    facilities could include their village shop or the last remaining pub in the village, their
    community centre, children’s centre or library building.
  • The consultation document on the regulations which will support the primary legislation was published on 4 February 2011 and closed on 3 May 2011. Subject to Parliamentary approval it is anticipated that the Localism Bill will obtain Royal Assent in Autumn 2011, and that the Community Right to Buy will be commenced from April 2012 at the earliest. The Community Right to Buy provisions in the Localism Bill ( ‘Assets of Community Value’) are intended to entitle community groups to identify and nominate public or private assets of community value in their local area to be included by the local authority on its list of "Assets of Community Value". The provisions also introduce a window of opportunity for community groups, once a listed asset comes up for sale, in order to give them valuable time to organise and fundraise. This is likely to be between 3 and 6 months, and should put the community group in a better position to compete with other potential buyers. It is important to note that nominating land to go on the list will not commit the nominating organisation to bid for it if it is put up for sale.
  • new Neighbourhood Planning and the Community Right to Build - these are essentially adaptations of spatial planning, such that like-minded people from the local area come together with a shared vision of what they want to achieve in their community and how they can go about it. It is intended that there will be additional powers for these communities so that community organisations, or parish councils would be able to take forward new local developments without the need to go through the normal planning application process, as long as the proposals meet certain criteria and there is community backing in a local referendum.
  • The Community Right to Challenge - the right for community and voluntary bodies, parish councils and authority employees to bid to take over the running of local authority services. The “Community Right to Challenge” in the Localism Bill will give these groups the ability
    to bring their proposals to take on the running of a service to the attention of the local
    council and require it to give them proper consideration
  • The consultation document on the regulations which will support the primary legislations was published on 4 February 2011 and closed on 3 May 2011. The 'Community Right to Challenge' provisions in the Localism Bill are intended to help stimulate the behaviour change necessary to empower communities and citizens by creating neighbourhoods who feel their involvement can shape the world around them.