A group of major charity umbrella bodies have called on the government to set up a new fund that would support the transfer of local authority assets to community ownership.
The call comes in a letter to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, signed by senior staff from 10 organisations, including the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Acevo, Locality, Navca and Social Enterprise UK. It has been sent before the government’s spending review is set out in the Autumn Statement on 25 November.
The organisations expect a slew of buildings to be sold by local authorities over the next few years as the pressure on council finances increases. They want local groups to be supported in taking them into community ownership.
The letter sets out plans for a "community capital fund" of unspecified size, which would receive bids from charities and community groups to take over assets such as unwanted council-owned buildings.
It says the fund should: provide investment to organisations to support them in developing their plans to take over assets; fund central support and advice to help the process of the transfer; and provide grants to allow community organisations to lever in additional funding and finance to allow them to secure assets that are for sale.
The letter says: "The total asset base of local authorities in England is estimated to be worth £250bn, and there is now an opportunity to ensure that vital community assets are safeguarded and continue to benefit local people while also boosting the ability of community organisations to deliver public services."
It says that challenges remain in the asset transfer process, such as local authorities not considering the social value they could receive in return for assets and unrealistic disposal timescales that give local groups and charities insufficient time to organise funding for a potential purchase.
The letter, which was also sent to George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, suggests that the government should take steps to extend the social value act to cover goods and infrastructure and expresses concern that local government is too often packaging contracting opportunities into high value "all-in-one" tenders for which only large organisations can bid.