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Charities call for ‘community ownership’ of expected council asset sell-offs

Community and voluntary organisations should take control of local government assets after they are sold off, charities’ representative bodies have told the chancellor.

The chief executives of a number of organisations, including the Charities Financial Group (CFG), Locality and Social Enterprise UK, have written to Philip Hammond urging him to include more measures to support charities in the Autumn Statement.

The letter says that an “unprecedented” disposal of local government assets is expected as councils struggle to cope with spending cuts, especially since councils are now allowed to spend capital receipts from the sale of assets on service transformation projects.

It says that transferring the assets to community ownership would not generate as much income as a commercial sale, but would provide income for civil society organisations and an opportunity to transform the services.

The letter says the government should create a community capital fund, which would provide organisations with funding and support to take over assets. The estimated cost is £25m in 2017-18 and £125m by 2019-20.

This should be particularly targeted at deprived local authorities in the North East and North West, which have seen the biggest fall in community organisations’ incomes, and London and the South East, where property is most expensive.

According to research from Locality, it should also be focused on ethnic minority organisations, which are less likely to own assets despite often being the only organisations that can reach some people in their communities.

In addition, the organisations said the government should establish 60 partnership hubs in the most deprived local authorities at a cost of roughly £10m a year. These would allow a full-time member of council staff to work with charities in order to identify local problems and solutions.

This could then lead to joint events and training sessions between local authorities and charities, and partnership working.

Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charities Financial Group, said: “I am pleased to jointly submit these proposals to the chancellor ahead of the Autumn Statement.

“It is important that the sector continues to work together to develop initiatives and policy proposals to ensure that charities can continue to provide vital services to people and communities across the country. This is perhaps even more important in light of Brexit and the unprecedented situation that we find ourselves in and I urge the Chancellor to engage with the sector to address the challenges that we all face and to make the most of the opportunities presented.

“As a sector we should be confident in the major contributions that the sector makes to the economy and society and we should be proactive in making this case to government.” 

Bradshaw also argued recently that charities should be more actively involved in devolution.

The letter also said that the EU referendum result had shown “an appetite in communities to have greater control over the decisions that affect them”, which would be fulfilled by a greater role for community organisations.

Other proposals included a rebate scheme to allow voluntary organisations to reclaim VAT incurred on non-business income, making distribution of funding such as the Libor banking scandal fines more systematic, and providing charities with grants to buy new technology.

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