Councils urged to back community asset transfers

3 Nov 16

Councils are broadly positive about the potential for community asset transfers, but more needs to be done to turn this enthusiasm into action, research has found.

A study undertaken by the New Local Government Network on behalf of the independent trust Power to Change found understanding and acknowledgement of the benefits of asset transfer among council officers.

Community asset transfers are when councils transfer assets to community organisations in exchange for demonstrable community benefit, with services such as libraries, parks and community centres among those most frequently transferred.

The review found several benefits of the switch including lower costs of service provision; protecting services that would otherwise be lost; and involving communities in the design and delivery of services.

The NLGN research found that the assets more likely to be taken into community ownership were: community centres (53% of local authorities had transferred ownership); public green spaces (42%); sports facilities (23%); and libraries (16%).

Despite this, only around 60% of councils had a policy for community transfer, and just half pursue this actively.

A fifth of councils had not transferred any assets to community groups in the last five years, while almost three quarters (70%) had not transferred more than 10 assets in the last five years.

Councils were found to worry about the ability of community groups to manage the asset in the future.

Commenting on the findings Ailbhe McNabola, head of policy and research at Power to Change, said: “Councils are obviously supportive of the idea of giving communities the chance to run local assets. But the abolition of the [government-funded] Asset Transfer Unit, and the difficulty now of finding officers responsible for this work, shows just how hard it is for local authorities to make it happen.

“Local authorities are under more and more financial pressure, and we have seen how community groups can breathe new life into local assets. There is plenty of potential for local people to take control of more of the services on their doorsteps, but we haven’t realised it yet.”

NLGN researcher Abby Gilbert added asset transfer had “huge potential” to respond to public sector funding challenges by making services more self-sustaining.

“We need to create systems or spaces which allow people and communities to harness the power which they already possess.”

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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