Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
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Transfer window opens for local communities

Transfer window opens for local communities

COMMUNITIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT News Release (097) issued by The Government News Network on 22 May 2007

Local Government Minister Phil Woolas has announced a six point action plan today to give people greater control over how key assets in their communities are run - from disused swimming baths to pubs and community centres

The Opening the Transfer Window implementation plan challenges councils to maximise the transfer of public assets to communities in order to make services more responsive and create more confident empowered communities with greater civic spirit. It comes in response to a major report by Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham Council last week.

The implementation plan includes:

* A new £400,000 challenge for councils to become one of twenty pilot areas who will transfer up to forty key assets from local authorities to community organisations. Barry Quirk's team will monitor the community benefits and public satisfaction with lessons learnt spread around the country.

* Access to a £30m Cabinet Office Community Assets fund to support community-led organisations in owning and running buildings, to be managed by the Big Lottery Fund. The fund will offer grants for refurbishment of local authority buildings, ensuring they are appropriate for community use and for transfer to third sector ownership or management.

* New guidance to be issued to all local authorities to help them identify proactively all assets that community organisations could run and provide a focal point for local communities.

* A new drive to promote powers available to residents to call for assets to be devolved. Residents will be able to raise issues through a Community Call for Action and even appeal to the Secretary of State through a Public Request to Order Disposals (PRODs) for her to direct councils to transfer assets.

* New training programmes for community organisations and local authority officers to build the management skills necessary in community organisations and encourage culture change in local councils.

* Greater collaboration between financiers, to maximise leverage from existing and new investment in asset-based development.

As well as promoting a much greater sense of community, Ministers believe there is clear evidence that where local people are directly involved in running local services both public satisfaction and quality rises.

Phil Woolas said:

"With more power being devolved to communities and greater responsibility on councils to promote wellbeing, this year is a key window of opportunity to breathe new life into disused public assets and give people a bigger stake in the future quality of life in their local area through community transfer.

"Our plan will get forty demonstration projects up and running and provide councils with the tools and training they need so that they can give every community the opportunity to tackle their local priorities, whether those are about enhancing the local environment, alleviating poverty or raising people's aspirations."

Launching the Quirk review last week Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly challenged every council to appoint a senior figure directly responsible for increasing community transfer and empowering local communities.

The implementation plan is not the last word in the Government's response. We will also reconvene Barry Quirk and his team after 12 months to review progress and maintain the coalition of partners to continue momentum. Significant further funding may be available following the Comprehensive Spending Review and we intend to publish a further action plan next year.

Underpinned by safeguards to ensure good management, local authorities have powers to sell or lease assets for as little as than £1 where it is clear it is for the good of the community. They can compulsorily purchase derelict property, require landowners to clean up sites that are adversely affecting the local neighbourhood, and the Government is providing greater opportunity for people to demand action through new powers in its local government legislation.

Other assets that could be transferred include redundant police stations, old hospital sites, empty shopping parades, closed down pubs on estates and leisure centres. Up to 1,500 community organisations could benefit from the changes. It is estimated that many more of the country's 9,000 village and community halls and 4,500 community centres could be run by local communities.

Barry Quirk's review Making Assets Work found that there are no substantive barriers to prevent councils transferring assets into community management or full ownership. Powers already exist for this but the report finds that many are not fully aware of them, or are not using them to full benefit. Therefore a change in culture is required so that every community has the chance for more active citizenship, a greater role in running services and owning assets, and improving wellbeing in their communities.

The successful New Deal for Communities programme was the first step in the Government's drive to empower communities and improve their quality of life in our most deprived areas. This was followed by the Local Government White Paper and then the Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Bill, which, when enacted will give citizens and communities a clearer voice, and greater freedom and powers to local government through an extended community call for action, greater scope for creating parish councils and enabling councils to make and bring into force byelaws.

Notes to Editors

1. Opening the Transfer Window: The Governments Response to the Quirk Review is available here: http://www.communities.gov.uk/index.asp?id=1510746

2. 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

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. Current powers and policies that relate to community management and ownership of assets:

* A general consent (2003) for local authorities to sell property at less than best value or to lease at less than market rent, to improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the area, up to a limit of £2million difference. The Best Value consideration must be met.

* In certain situations, local authorities have compulsory purchase powers, which can apply to derelict private property.

* The Secretary of State has discretionary powers to direct local authorities and certain other specified public bodies to dispose of their interest in land and buildings, in response to a request from a member of the public. The aim of this is to deter public sector landowners from holding on to vacant land or derelict buildings unnecessarily. This power, known as public request to order disposal, or PROD, is not currently well known or used.

* Local authorities also have a discretionary power to require landowners to clean up 'land adversely affecting the amenity of the neighbourhood'.

* The Treasury revised its guidance to funders in 2005, so that clawback provisions, while protecting public funding, do not prevent organisations from using their assets to promote enterprise and generating a surplus to promote their sustainability.

* Charitable foundations can by law disburse funds to organisations which are not charitable, but which are promoting community benefits, such as those constituted as Community Interest Companies. This is not widely known amongst local community groups.

5. 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.

Public Enquiries: 020 7944 4400;
News Releases: http://www.communities.gov.uk

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