Powers to the people
New legal rights for England may make takeovers of local shops, pubs or other assets and services easier. Learn how to use the law in any UK country to your community’s advantage.
Communities may vary in size or location, as do the assets they want to take over, but the hurdles they face have remained much the same over the years. Such has been the view of James Alcock, Community Retail Manager at the Plunkett Foundation – until now.
With the Localism Act coming into force in England in April many of these barriers should be lowered or removed.
“It’s been hugely frustrating to witness,” he says. “I’ve seen communities with brilliant ideas, particularly for taking over and running their local pub. They have got together, developed a plan and then have run out of time to gather the money needed as they may have been given only a matter of weeks to raise significant levels of funding.
“The consequence is that developers, who are able to raise cash quickly, can get their hands on the pub instead and turn it into housing. This change in the law is long overdue and will go some of the way to helping make it easier for communities to take over and run their local pub or shop.”
The Plunkett Foundation is strongly encouraging rural communities to explore how they can use the new act’s powers.
“They give people the right to say what’s important to them and a right to try buying or running assets or services,” says James.
Steve Wyler, chief executive of Locality, the UK’s network of community-led organisations agrees: “From our experience, we know that local groups across the country have been taking control of much loved community assets for many years, often saving them from closure or neglect – despite the odds. The new provisions will help to ensure that local people can get a foot in the door to acquire land and buildings for the common good.”
While the Right to Bid (Assets of Community Value) and Right to Challenge do not give communities first refusal when buildings or businesses come up for sale or when services go out to tender, they do give communities greater opportunity to safeguard businesses and services that play a vital role in local life.
Right to Bid (Assets of Community Value)
Councils in England will be required, under the Right to Bid, to maintain a list of assets that are valued locally. Communities will be able to suggest additions to this list by making nominations. These may include village shops, pubs, community centres, youth facilities or even swimming pools.
When these designated buildings or businesses come up for sale, community groups will be given a realistic amount of time to put together a credible bid to buy them.
Up to now, many local groups’ attempts to take over assets have failed, partly because they have needed more time to organise a bid and raise money than their private enterprise competitors bidding against them.
Right to Challenge
Social enterprises have long been aware that they can deliver high quality, value-for-money public services – be it setting up transport for disabled children going to activity clubs or running a local leisure centre. However, they’ve not always found it easy to get local councils, responsible for services, to take them seriously.
This has been hugely disappointing for local groups, given they often have great expertise and experience. Now, however, through the Right to Challenge, communities in England can insist councils give their proposals serious consideration and allow them to bid in procurement exercises. In short, it will be easier to put forward good ideas and have them heard.
UK as a whole
These new rights for England differ from those already in existence in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but all communities across the UK can use legal powers to take over assets in some way.
The 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act entitles Scottish community bodies representing rural areas with a population of less than 10,000 to register an interest in land. If it is put up for sale, they can choose to buy it, with the Scottish Land Fund helping provide the means.
In Wales, individual local authorities can transfer land to third sector organisations at below-market value. However, it is down to individual local authorities to decide their policy on transfer.
In Northern Ireland, the 2007 Community Support Programme aims to give communities more powers to run services on behalf of local authorities.
What to do when
- Find out more about the buildings and businesses in your community. Is the publican of your local pub thinking of retiring? Is the council considering closing the local swimming pool? What would it cost to run one of these assets?
- Begin consultations in your community about which local assets you value the most and would like designated and included on the council’s list of community assets
- Come to agreement about what you would like added to the council’s list of community assets
- Review the local services you are running
- Consult and agree on which services you want to continue providing or expand.
When the rights are available:
- Find out which buildings and businesses are on the council’s list of community assets
- Add your nominations
- Express your interest to the council in running a service
- Put together a business plan outlining how you would continue providing certain services to the community and showing your past success.
To find out more about how you could use these new rights to benefit your community call the Village SOS Advice Line on 0845 434 9123 send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was published in Issue 3 of The Local, the Village SOS magazine. Click here to see more inspiring case studies, tips and advice on setting up a community enterprise.