Review of asset powers launched
Jamie Carpenter & Richard Garlick
Regeneration & Renewal
Powers designed to help community organisations take over the management and ownership of public assets are not being sufficiently used, the Government admitted this week.
Speaking in Birmingham at the annual conference of the Development Trusts Association, communities secretary Ruth Kelly launched a review of the existing powers.
The Community Ownership and Management Review will consider whether further powers are required to boost the transfer of public land and buildings to community organisations. It will also examine barriers to asset transfer.
It will be headed by Barry Quirk, chief executive of Lewisham council, and is scheduled to publish a ‘concrete’ action plan ‘aimed at real change on the ground’ next spring.
Kelly admitted that existing powers, which allow councils to sell assets to community groups for discounts of up to £2 million and lease premises to such groups at below market rates, were underused.
‘There are all sorts of powers out there,’ Kelly said. ‘We’ve got to make this real for community groups on the ground.’
In a separate speech at the conference, third sector minister Ed Miliband said the Government will act to give English community groups a better opportunity to acquire council assets when they come up for sale.
To cheers from delegates, he said: ‘We are determined to do what we can to give you more of a seat at the table when it comes to local authorities deciding what to do with their assets.’
Miliband also said that community groups needed more resources to buy assets. ‘There is a gap that needs to be filled,’ he said.
However, in her speech, Kelly appeared to confirm fears that she was sceptical about introducing a right for local groups to get first refusal when land in their area comes up for sale.
She said that such legislation was only working in a limited way in Scotland, ‘so it’s probably not transportable’.