As I’m sure you will have noticed Lewisham Council’s Chief Executive, Barry Quirk, has been thinking about community assets.
From my experience of Barry this is right up his street. He’s a big fan of Robert Kennedy, who argued:
We can begin to bring both public and private resources into our poor communities – both in urban and rural America – and give to these men and women the role of rebuilding their communities, constructing new housing, and helping to manage new industry and opportunity… We can and will turn away from federal programs imposed on communities. We can and will say to our cities and towns: ‘Here are the funds. We expect performance. We leave the structure and management for your wisdom and talent.’
Barry’s quoted in the press release saying:
“Community ownership can bring people from different backgrounds together; it can foster a sense of belonging and play a role in enhancing the local environment, alleviating poverty and raising people’s aspirations. Fundamentally, it’s about giving people a bigger stake in the future of their area to improve the quality of life in local communities.
Which, while not reaching the heights of Kennedy’s rhetorical power, has a very similar ring to it.
Here’s a summary of the recommendations the review are putting to government:
- 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).
The press have seized on the idea that:
Closed-down pubs and schools, redundant police stations and empty hospital sites could be sold off to community groups for as little as £1 to allow them to be revived as facilities for local people…
Which, comes from the press release that has launched the report rather than being something that is said directly in the document (at least as far as I can see).
Skimming the report its clear there are all sorts of interesting and exciting ideas for local government and community groups to think about.
The LGA aren’t sure though, a spokesman told The Guardian:
“Councils are committed to delivering an ever better deal for the taxpayer and will always consider new and innovative ways to secure that deal. However, serious questions must be asked as to whether a prime piece of real estate that is owned by taxpayers should be sold for as little as £1.”