Business boost for asset transfer and community enterprise
Communities and Local Government
Communities Secretary Hazel Blears is joining forces with business to take a more active role in supporting local community enterprise by providing free expert advice in return for involvement in projects that transform disused buildings into vibrant community centres.
Some of the UK’s most prestigious businesses including consultancy AMEY and infrastructure investors John Laing will explore innovative ways of using their expertise and resources to help local community organisations to build stronger community enterprises and ensure more effective use of their assets.
The community assets initiative encourages local councils to transfer assets into the ownership or management of local people if it will benefit the local community. This is a key part of the Government’s drive to give people more say in how their communities are run, but local groups often find the management and financial know-how needed to run and develop such projects is a real obstacle. Involving established businesses in helping to build local financial and management skills will strengthen the viability of local projects.
Community organisations will be able to work with and learn from experts in finances, project development and management, learning real business skills which will set their project, and their workforce, on strong foundations.
In return for contributing this technical advice and management support, businesses will be able to gain invaluable experience from social enterprises, volunteering and skills development opportunities for their own staff, and give themselves the opportunity to forge long term relationships or even collaborate on new initiatives. It is also an opportunity to become a trusted source for consultancy and expertise in the future and, through recommendation, get involved in existing projects.
Next month, Hazel Blears will meet with members of the CBI and the third sector to discuss ways to push this initiative forward. Many initiatives to improve asset transfer are already underway with the support of established businesses:
In Norfolk, collaborative support from surveyors, architects, civil engineers and an accountancy firm, through ProHelp Business in the Communities national pro bono campaign, enabled the conversion of a former Baptist school room to Meeting Hill Day Centre, a day centre for the elderly in rural Norfolk. This resulted not only in a new community centre in the local area but also created six new jobs and a local building enterprise was also set up.
And new initiatives are developing all the time:
John Laing and Urban Forum are developing a practical guide to help community groups become more effectively engaged within local development projects. The guide will be a working tool of real value for local communities and groups. Urban Forum brings its knowledge of the community sector and expertise in community engagement to the work, while John Laing brings considerable expertise in developing commercial and civic property, as well as social infrastructure such as schools, colleges and hospitals.
But Hazel Blears commented that there is still plenty to do:
‘The transfer of assets to community groups clearly has an important role to play in promoting community enterprise and empowerment. Many councils could hand over buildings ranging from old schools to courthouses to provide a home for community enterprises, and I very much welcome that.
‘But making a success of asset transfer means much more than just picking up the keys. To keep going in the long term community groups need to build strong partnerships and develop their business acumen.
‘This is a fantastic chance for businesses to get involved with community organisations at a local level, open doors to new opportunities and widen the expertise of their own workforce.’
Alexandra Marks, National Chair of ProHelp, Business in the Communities national campaign said:
‘Providing free professional advice and support is increasingly becoming part of the culture of professional services firms. ProHelp has a membership of over 800 professional firms committed to supporting the community in this way. Our challenge is raising awareness amongst community organisations about this valuable resource.’
John Laing said:
‘We have made a strong commitment to supporting sustainable communities by empowering local people and groups to take a more active and effective role in shaping major developments.
‘We see a major role for the private sector going forward; helping Local Authorities realise the potential value inherent within their extensive property portfolios for community uses.’