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April 20, 2011

It’s not selling the family silver

The prospect of transferring a Council asset into community ownership was unthinkable for many councils just a couple of years ago. To do so was considered by many akin to “selling the family silver”.  How things have changed in such a short space of time. Unprecedented pressures on council budgets have concentrated the minds of many and some councils are beginning to show that they’re up for the challenge. Moray Council for instance

Stuart Crowther, STV

A report placed before Moray councillors today set a clear path towards community ownership and management of existing council assets.

Councillors went to great lengths to make clear that the report before them provided a strategy for the council, and any interested community groups, to follow.

Councillor Allan Wright, chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, stressed that the document did not propose the sale of any particular council assets.

He told the committee: “I would like to make the point that this is not the council selling off to the highest bidder some or any of its assets.

“This is a follow-up to what was in the budget package, that we would be moving towards a trust for our leisure facilities, and at the same time we would invite interest from community groups who had an idea of taking over some of the council’s current assets and running them themselves.

Councillor Wright added that there had been a number of seminars explaining ways that community groups might go about taking over assets and these had been oversubscribed.

He said: “What became clear from the seminar attended by members was that before we could move any further forward, or before community groups could move forward, we had to have a strategy.That is the strategy in front of the council. There is no list of properties that we want to sell off as has been stated in some quarters, this is facilitating potential take-over of some of our assets by community groups and enabling that to happen.”
Community planning manager John Ferguson, who prepared the report, highlighted that the strategy provided an explanation on just what was meant by asset transfer. He also identified the benefits it may have to community organisations and the council in adopting the strategy.

He said: “It also makes clear the national strategy context – there is a move by the Scottish Government to support and encourage the transfer of assets to community groups. We talk about providing a single gateway, and a clear route and process for community groups, and I think that is the essence of the strategy.”
“Community groups that may express an interest will have a clear route within the council for acquiring an asset – currently we have no clear approach within the council and this allows us to do that. There is a clear policy statement outlining the conditions we would expect before we pass over ownership, and a clear outline of the business plan we would require from community groups.”
Barry Jarvis, councillor for Elgin City North, welcomed the document, saying: “This is one of the most important documents that have come before this committee in recent times. I think community asset transfer is a fantastic way to empower and give communities a genuine say in our future. I read a statement in a newspaper about selling the family silver, but it is about giving the family silver back to where it belongs and into the hands of the community.”
That was a point agreed on by Councillor Lee Bell, who said: “There seems to have been a lot of misinformation regarding this strategy, suggesting that we are trying to sell off the family silver. This is clearly not the case – this is in response to requests from the community to take over assets. The Tolbooth in Forres is a prime example, we are only responding to requests from the community, and it is important that point is put over.”
Draft copy of strategy here