Blears backs asset transfers
Communities and local government secretary Hazel Blears praised the power of social enterprises to find solutions to rural challenges as she launched the latest round of asset transfer projects at the Plunkett Foundation’s Rural Social Enterprise conference in November.
The highest-ranking minister in the department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) said: ‘Rural communities today face new challenges -an ageing population, some places seeing new migration for the first time, an ever-present need for local shops and services. Giving local people more opportunities to get things done for themselves will be a big part of the solution.’
Speaking at Plunkett’s seventh national Rural Social Enterprise conference, RSE7, in Cambridgeshire, she added: ‘Communities have the capacity to solve their own problems if provided with the right support… rural social enterprises offer a wonderful example of that.’
CLG wants to see public assets transferred to community groups in 80 areas over the next two years. Announcing the next 14 areas where transfers are to go ahead, Blears said: ‘This is practical action to put more power in the hands of local people.’ She said £2m is available to support pilots from a £35m CLG community empowerment fund.
The minister warned that buildings and land handed over to community organisations must not just be ‘white elephants’ that are disused or surplus to requirements, but ‘some of the jewels in the crown’. She added that transfer of such assets must be backed up by revenue streams to help maintain them.
Blears also highlighted current examples of rural communities taking over assets, such as 18th-century cottages in a public garden in Restormel, Cornwall.
Neil Stott, chief executive of the Keystone Development Trust, which has been involved in a demonstration project on asset transfer, said: ‘National leadership must translate into local government action. There is a difference between a liability and an asset. Many of the assets offered to community bodies are marginal -if no one else can make it work, why can we?’