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November 18, 2009

Asset transfer may be at risk in tighter times

An encouraging study published last week by the DTA’s Asset Transfer Unit reported 80% of Councils in England had been involved in the transfer of assets to community organisations in the past two years.   But will this continue when council budgets come under tough financial pressure?  And what’s the position in Scotland? DTAS has been researching the extent to which our councils are involved in asset transfer with a report due in the New Year.

Jamie Carpenter

Jamie Carpenter, Regeneration & Renewal, 16 November 2009

Last week saw Tory leader David Cameron use a speech to set out his plans to use the state to stimulate social action, which he said would “help families, individuals, charities and communities come together to solve problems”. Cameron’s speech was thin on policy detail, but he suggested that public funding could be used to spread “proven social programmes” across the country by franchising them to social entrepreneurs and that a Tory government could create New York-style “block captains” to help make areas safer and better places to live.

Given the Conservative Party’s substantial lead in the polls, those involved in community regeneration will no doubt welcome Cameron’s recognition of the importance of social entrepreneurship. But some may also feel a little disappointed that his speech did not mention how putting assets such as land and buildings in the hands of community bodies can help to empower communities. This sort of activity is already widespread across England, according to a new report.

The study, published last week by the government-funded Asset Transfer Unit, gives the most comprehensive picture yet of the scale of asset transfer already underway in England. According to the report, 80 per cent of councils have transferred at least one asset to community organisations in the last two years. The study found more than 350 asset transfer projects in progress across the 119 local authorities it surveyed. “The future looks positive,” the study concluded.

Yet the asset transfer agenda faces a considerable challenge over the coming months and years. Councils face steep spending reductions in the next spending review period beginning in 2011, and potentially even earlier should the Tories win next year’s general election. On top of this, the Prime Minister recently announced plans to sell off £16 billion of public assets, including £13 billion of local authority assets, as part of his plans to address the UK’s growing deficit. When faced with these financial pressures, councils may think twice about transferring assets to community groups.

If the Conservatives really are serious about stimulating social action, they should include a commitment to community asset transfer in their election manifesto.