August 27, 2008
Community Ownership of Assets
From ‘On the Ground’ news items (opposite) it`s evident that Councils in Scotland are beginning to look seriously at transferring assets to communities. What is required now is for Scottish Government to surface with its unequivocal support and guidance. The 5 ‘key actions’ identified by the Quirk Review would be a good starting point.
Making Assets Work: The Quirk Review of community management and ownership of public assets
As a review team, we drew heavily on past work in this field, on submissions from and discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, on the advice of officials from across Communities and Local Government as well as the Office of the Third Sector and HM Treasury, and from our own personal experiences, spanning local government, the voluntary and community sector and social enterprise, Registered Social Landlords and academia.
We were driven to three firm conclusions:
• Assets are used in service of an array of social, community and public purposes. Any sale or transfer of public assets to community ownership and management needs to realise social or community benefits without risking wider public interest concerns and without community purposes becoming overly burdened with asset management
• The benefits of community management and ownership of public assets can outweigh the risks and often the opportunity costs in appropriate circumstances. And if there is a rational and thorough consideration of these risks and opportunity costs, there are no substantive impediments to the transfer of public assets to communities. It can be done, indeed it has been done legitimately and successfully in very many places
• There are risks but they can be minimised and managed – there is plenty of experience to draw on. The secret is all parties working together. This needs political will, managerial imagination and a more business focused approach from the public and community sectors
We considered these in relation to the whole spectrum of community management and ownership of assets. The stake that community-led organisations have in particular assets extends from short-term management agreements, through to leasehold ownership on leases of varying lengths and freehold ownership. It also stretches from small volunteer-run village halls and community centres to multi-million pound, multi-purpose community enterprises.
We recognised that the greater the stake, the greater the financial and legal responsibility the organisation takes on, but also the greater the freedom to exploit the asset’s potential
As a result, we concluded that five key actions could make a decisive difference:
• 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
• The publication of a toolkit for local authorities and other public bodies on risk assessment and risk management in asset transfer to communities
• 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
• 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
• 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 and the Public Request to Order Disposal (PROD) scheme1