Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
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Deadline approaches for communities to make the most of local assets
The Government's drive to empower people is entering into a new phase as the latest round of applications close. The deadline for the scheme, which will engage people and improve services by transferring local assets into community management and ownership, including disused schools, swimming pools, office blocks and community centres, closes on 15 February.
34 pilots are already underway across the country and this will rise to 50 once applications have closed on 15 February. But with the closing date drawing near, the opportunity for more authorities to join is fading fast.
Councils can hand over transfer any asset to be owned or run by local people if it is in the interest of the local community. But a major report last year found that many were not aware of the benefits, or considering how best to use them which is why the Government is supporting areas that want this opportunity with support and advice.
Successful projects can also apply for lottery funding under a £30m Cabinet Office fund to support social enterprise schemes.
In Hastings for example, the Friends of Hastings Pier are working with the local council to explore bringing the local pier, closed for health and safety reasons and in legal limbo, into the hands of the community. Meanwhile in Lewisham a group of artists are working with the council to formalise their occupancy in the old Carnegie Library and make it sustainable for the future. On a deprived estate in Cheshire a local group are taking over a community centre from the county council to enhance the services it can deliver to local residents.
Projects where local people are directly involved in running local services not only promote a greater sense of community, but they have also been shown to raise public interest and satisfaction. Already in the early stages of this pilot, there is evidence that communities in the areas which have taken part have better knowledge of council policy and activity.
Hazel Blears said:
"This is a hugely exciting agenda. By giving local assets such as markets, disused schools, libraries, swimming pools and community centres to local people, we can breathe new life into local neighbourhoods.
"Asset transfer creates new social enterprises, trains a new generation of active citizens, and helps rebuild grassroots democracy. Already some exciting new initiatives are getting started, and I am looking forward to the next wave."
The closing date for submitting expressions of interest is 5pm on 15 February 2008. For details on how to express an interest see http://www.dta.org.uk.
Notes to Editors
1. Advancing Assets for Communities is a demonstration programme led by the Development Trusts Association
Opening the Transfer Window: The Governments Response to the Quirk Review is available here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1510746
Making Assets Work The report on Community Management and Ownership of Public Assets by Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham Council was commissioned as part of the Local Government White Paper, 'Stronger and Prosperous Communities' and published on 15 May 2007. The report can be accessed here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1510515
2. Barry Quirk's review, Making Assets Work, recommended that local authorities needed more information on how community management and ownership works successfully in practice. This programme, Advancing Assets for Communities, is working to provide that.
3. A summary of Barry Quirk's recommendations:
* 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.
* 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.
* 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 existing Public Request to Order Disposal (PROD).
4. Recent analysis into Best Value Performance Indicators has found that the extent to which people believe they can influence and participate in local decision making can significantly influence their level of satisfaction with their local council.
5. The Attitudes to Asset Transfer Survey was conducted in the 20 initial demonstration areas by Ipsos-MORI, on behalf of Communities and Local Government. Some key findings were:
* Over the 6 months following the publication of the Quirk Review, and during which support through the demonstration began, the proportion of respondents feeling they know a more about asset transfer increased dramatically.
* Two-thirds of council officers and community groups thought that their council had become more proactive regarding asset transfer, thought only one third of councillors thought so.
* 78% of council officers agreed that passing power to local communities would make sure that local services reflect people's needs.
News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk/newsroom