Local authorities overly cautious about transferring assets to voluntary groups, finds report

The benefits of public assets being transferred to community organisations far outweigh the risks perceived by local authorities, according to a government review, which will be launched today. Meanwhile, an alternative review launched today by the Adventure Capital Fund warned that government must provide funding for the scheme to work.

The government report, which was led by Lewisham Council chief executive Barry Quirk, found that there were “no substantive impediments” to the transfer of public assets to communities as long as all parties worked together and communicated effectively. “This needs political will, managerial imagination and a more business-focused approach from the public and community sectors,” the report read.

In a statement, Quirk added: “Many local authorities are leading the way in devolving and engaging with their communities and the tools are in place, but there will be those who are less enthusiastic, or will be concerned about the risks. We must give communities the levers they need to bring about that change in culture and show councils that the risks can be managed to their benefit.”

Quirk’s team also recommended a “major campaign” to increase awareness of asset transfer, on local authority asset management and risk assessment.

Third sector minister Ed Miliband is due to back the scheme at today’s launch, which will be held at the community-owned Burton Street project in Sheffield. “I believe that communities have the energy and ideas to improve their neighbourhoods,” he will tell delegates. “Transferring the ownership of public buildings to community groups can help release this potential, as hundreds of successful groups already show.”

Meanwhile, community support group the Adventure Capital Fund today launched its own review of the community assets issue, which was produced by left-leaning think tank ippr. Community Asset Transfers: overcoming challenges of governance and accountability recommends that in order to cut down the risks of asset transfer, community groups must have the capital to carry out necessary start-up costs and repair work.

Stephen Bubb, chair of the fund, told Third Sector Online that the government had to be prepared to make investments in addition to its £30m community assets fund, which was announced in December’s pre-budget report.

“Both central and local government needs to be prepared to invest in community organisations to make sure that they have long-term viable business plans,” Bubb said. “Although our report and the Quirk report cover the same subject, the issue for us is that we can’t look at asset transfer in isolation to the funding of community organisations who are then left with having to find the money to do up the building.”

“We wanted to look at how community organisations should respond to the challenge: it’s about transferring assets as well as ensuring capital investment, which is what the Adventure Capital Fund was set up to do,” Bubb added.

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