In June this year Locality, which is the national membership charity of community organisations, launched Save our Spaces. This is a campaign to save buildings and spaces that have come to be seen as a maintenance liability to councils from being sold off into private ownership. Losing public buildings and green spaces to private enterprise is bound to deplete our social fabric – often involving shareholders and thus the private organisation’s duty to take profits out from that asset to pay their shareholder dividends.
An alternative already exists. Community Asset Transfer was set up in 2003, whereby councils may sell assets to community organisations at below market rates in exchange for demonstrable community benefit.
Community ownership is an alternative to private or public ownership. It involves a community organisation legally set up for the public benefit that makes an asset available to the whole community without private or public commercial gain.
While alarm about the Great British Sell-Off has been circulating for a few years, and despite community asset transfer being the third option, Locality has discovered that fewer than half Local Authorities have an asset transfer policy.
Sheffield City Council has set up The Community Right to Bid which is billed as giving ‘people of Sheffield the chance to bid, to buy and take over the running of assets that are considered of value to the local community which are being sold by the current owners’. A community needs to nominate and successfully have registered the asset (a Council process). Once this is completed, my understanding is that the owner cannot sell it for purposes outside the community benefit it brings – though they don’t have to sell it to that particular community group. So that when the owner wants to sell it, the scheme allows the community group six months to make an offer to buy the asset.
Clearly, this calls on active and co-operative citizenship. As the saying goes: ‘less talk, more do’.