Locality calls for £1bn to back protection of public assets

A report by the community group charity says this would help to resist the loss of libraries, community centres, sports centres and the like

Locality conference
Locality conference

The community group membership charity Locality has called for £1bn to be made available over the next five years to help community groups in England take over and protect public assets.

In its report Places & Spaces: The Future of Community Asset Ownership, unveiled on Tuesday at its annual conference in York, Locality says the funding should come from a mix of providers, including £125m from the government.

The report warns that cash-strapped councils are under pressure to sell or mothball buildings and land, such as libraries, community centres and sports centres, in order to cut costs, meaning they could be lost to local communities or become derelict.

The fund would allow community groups to take on and run the assets, usually by means of long-term peppercorn rent agreements, leaving them available to the public but alleviating the financial burden on councils.

In addition to the £125m government contribution, half of the £1bn total should be provided by the Independent Dormant Assets Commission, the report says, the Big Lottery Fund should contribute £125m, £200m should come from social investment and £50m from other funders and charities.

About 80 per cent of the £1bn would provide capital finance and grants and should deliver the equivalent of one project a year in every local authority in England, according to the report.

A further 10 per cent would be used to support development planning and feasibility projects, and the remaining 10 per cent would provide a national hub for information, support and advice, the report says.

The £1bn figure has been calculated by looking at similar activity in Scotland, the report says, where the BLF and the Scottish government have invested or pledged £103m for community ownership between 2010 and 2020.

Locality calculated that, given Scotland’s population of 5.3 million and England's 53 million, an equivalent scheme for England would be worth £1bn.

Locality’s plan has been condensed into a five-year period because the situation in England is urgent, the report says.

Speaking at the conference, Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, said he hoped the fund would "reset the agenda to examine the benefits of community asset ownership".

He said: "It sounds bold, but in the context of hundreds of billions of pounds of public assets being sold off and lost to common ownership over the next few years, it’s a modest amount of investment.

"This is an area that requires investment, and you get huge returns from investing in community assets.

"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.

"These assets can be sold only once. Once they’re lost, they’re lost forever, and there is a real threat that short-term decisions being made by cash-strapped councils will seriously weaken local communities that are already feeling disempowered." 

Armstrong also announced that Locality would in the new year be launching an independent commission to look at the future of localism. He said it would be chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Kerslake, the former chief executive of Sheffield City Council and head of the civil service.

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