Creative approaches to multiple community asset transfer

This is a guest post from Debbie Lamb, Development Manager – Locality.

The current financial crisis is changing the face of community asset transfer. Locality and its predecessors, the Development Trusts Association and bassac, have long since advocated and supported community asset transfer. Three or four years ago, the main model of community asset transfer was demand-driven – community organisations seeking transfers to improve local services, develop social enterprises and establish their financial resilience.  

Demand-driven transfers have increased by 50% over the last twelve months – with local authority officers reporting 1,500/annum underway in a survey conducted during January 2012. But, times are changing – and, with them, the impetus for community asset transfer. 

Local authorities, primary care trusts and other major service providers are under immense pressure to deliver high quality outcomes with increasingly constrained resources. They are also asked to deliver against the Government’s Opening Public Services, Mutuals and Big Society agendas. This combination of factors has led to the emergence of a ‘supply-push’ model – where multiple asset transfer to communities is increasingly sought as a way to maintain or evolve services, whilst reducing facilities management costs for the public sector. All of this, at a hitherto unprecedented pace.

The Asset Transfer Unit has been working with local authorities over the past two years to explore approaches to multiple asset transfer. The programme has looked creatively at how services can be delivered, the full potential of assets realised and a strategic approach taken to maximising opportunities through community asset ownership and enterprise. 

The values built into the programme are those which have always underpinned community asset transfer:

  • community empowerment lies at the heart of the transfer process
  • transfers must be financially viable and sustainable in the long-term
  • services available to local people should be enhanced through transfer
  • effective transfer results from genuine partnership working

The difference lies in the scale, speed and complexity of ambitions encountered in each locale.

The development of assets by communities and the role social enterprises can play is critically important to the future of public service delivery. As such, the Multiple Asset Transfer programme is designed to offer expert support to develop strategic approaches to both. Multiples can be structured around services, places or asset types – so there is real flexibility. 

That flexibility means that approaches to multiple asset transfer vary enormously. I am particularly inspired by those which pursue bold and innovative solutions to maintain and enhance services – for example local authorities which:

  • trust their community and voluntary sector partners, consider all the options and co-produce solutions
  • seek to enhance services in the long term through working in partnership with community enterprises
  • explore different models of ownership, management and collaboration in order to develop sustainable solutions
  • see the benefits of co-location, better joining up of services and attracting additional investment
  • are prepared to offer property for sale or community asset transfer, and weigh up in each case which delivers best value

The work of Northampton Borough Council and Northampton Spaces CIC serves as an excellent case in point – http://www.atu.org.uk/Stories/Northampton

These are difficult issues and there are no easy solutions. Local authorities face pressures to realise capital receipts. It’s not easy to come up with viable business models for many of the buildings in their portfolios because they are small, in a state of poor repair or, else, challenged by location. Changes to valued services and buildings often prove emotive amongst the general public. For these reasons, local authorities are looking for strategic solutions which deliver revenue savings alongside service transformation outcomes.

Locality has launched a Call for Expressions of Interest from local authorities interested in progressing plans for multiple asset transfer during 2012-13. The programme will work with 5 local authorities across England, building upon the learning from earlier rounds involving work across 15 areas. Further information on multiple asset transfer and the call to action can be found on the Asset Transfer Unit website via http://www.atu.org.uk/programmes/Multiple/MATDemonstationProgrammeAPPLY