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£1bn fund for community ownership needed to save public assets – Locality

Assets such as libraries, community centres and sports centres risk being lost without funding support for communities to take them over, Locality has warned.

Councils currently own land and buildings worth £250bn, but Locality, a network of community-led organisations, warned that these are in danger of being closed, sold or cut as councils struggle to cope with financial pressures.

In a report, ‘Places and Spaces - The future of community asset ownership’, launched at its annual conference in York today, the organisation said a £1bn fund should be used to support communities in taking over these assets.

Tony Armstrong, its chief executive, said: “Cuts to local authority budgets have meant that many councils are looking to sell off their land and buildings – like community centres, libraries or sports centres - to the highest bidder in an attempt to raise badly-needed cash.

“This is a very short-sighted view which puts communities at risk of permanently losing important public buildings and spaces for the sake of a quick buck. 

“Transferring public assets to communities can safeguard them for generations to come and we urgently need the government and other funders to step in to support organisations to do exactly that.”

Lancashire County Council recently announced plans to close services, including libraries and children’s centres, at more than 100 sites in order to try to tackle its deficit, which is due to hit nearly £148m by 2021.

Armstrong said that affluent communities were more likely to have the skills and civil society needed to save community assets, but asset sales could “seriously weaken” poorer communities which already feel “disempowered”.

Locality argued that £800m of the £1bn fund should be used to provide capital grants and finance, enough to allow for one project a year in every local authority in England.

The rest of the money would then be spent on supporting development planning and feasibility of projects, managing grants and investments, and providing a national hub for information, advice and support.

The report suggested the fund should be made up of £500m from the Dormant Assets Commission, £200m social investment, £125m from central government, £125m from the Big Lottery Fund and another £50m from other charities and trusts.

Locality also said the government should revise its Community Right to Bid legislation, with community groups given first right of refusal.

In addition, it said the moratorium period should be extended to a year to give optimum time for community groups to develop a viable bid, and be accompanied by requirements for prospective bidders to demonstrate evidence that they were fund-raising the capital required and seriously intended to buy.

Interpretations of ‘recent past’ for assets of community value should also be extended to at least five years.

The organisation also said that councils should ensure they have a consistent, transparent and flexible community ownership policy which is well communicated internally and externally.

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