Throughout the Community Empowerment Action Plan, both the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), give a strong commitment to enabling communities to participate fully in the events and affairs which affect the community in which they live.
There are many different ways in which communities can become empowered; community ownership of assets (land and buildings) is one method that can contribute.
Asset ownership won't be the answer for all communities, as much will depend on local circumstances, but when it is appropriate, a range of benefits can be realised.
In 2009, the Development Trust Association Scotland (DTAS) was awarded £250,000 by the Scottish Government to carry out a programme of work supporting communities to own assets over two years.
The programme of work being undertaken by DTAS will:
- raise awareness amongst councillors, local authority officers and community groups of the benefits of community asset ownership and assets transfers;
- identify and disseminate lessons from effective practice in encouraging community ownership and of assets through assets transfer and wider policies to support community asset ownership;
- provide training, toolkits and develop networks for councillors, local authority officers and community groups on asset transfers;
- provide targeted support in selected local authority areas to develop a joint strategy and action plan on assets transfer; and
- provide targeted development support for selected community groups to enable them to take on transferred assets.
This is being achieved by:
- Reviewing and disseminating effective practice in asset transfer policy and practice in local authorities in Scotland. Identifying the extent and nature of current strategies looking at both successful and unsuccessful acquisitions and assessing key lessons learned.
- Developing a programme of 11 seminars, as well as developing toolkits, for councillors, officials and community groups on various aspects of asset transfer. This includes the pilot of one national seminar for counsellors, five regional for officials and a further five regional for community groups each commencing with one pilot.
- Creating a demonstration programme of support for local authorities and community groups in eight selected local areas to produce local asset transfer strategies. Taking forward one or two asset transfers in each area and the evaluation of these projects will identify key lessons for policy and practice.
This work is well underway: the review of current practice, Public Asset Transfer; Empowering Communities, was published in May.
The series of 11 seminars was launched at the successful Policy Symposium on the May 26. The event was held in the COSLA offices in Edinburgh and there was an impressive turnout from elected members, officials and community organisations. The Minister for Housing and Communities, Mr Alex Neil MSP, and the COSLA spokesperson for Community Well-Being and Safety, Councillor. Harry McGuigan, underlined their joint commitment to community empowerment. They also recognised that whilst asset ownership could be empowering, it may not be the most suitable option for every community group or in every situation.
Work is now being done by DTAS to set dates for the next round of seminars as described above and further details will be made available soon by DTAS staff.
The eight demonstration projects have now also been identified and already first meetings have taken place to establish how they will go forward.
In each case, both the council and the community group have agreed to enter into the process of negotiating the transfer of an asset. There are no guarantees that this will lead to a successful outcome - but there is an expressed will on both sides to make it happen.
The projects are:
The asset is a community hall in the village of Muir of Ord, in the Black Isle. Highland Council is committed to a policy of disposing of all village halls into community ownership. There are some particular issues around the proposed imposition of an 'economic burden' which would restrict a community's ability to dispose of the asset in the future.
Argyll and Bute Council
The asset is the town hall in Campbeltown - the largest settlement in Kintyre. The council has recently moved an office out of the town hall which placed a threat over its future. There are currently a number of regeneration efforts underway in Campbeltown, including a Townscape Heritage Initiative, which will impact on the town hall. The town hall has an iconic status locally and community support to find some new use for the building is strong.
The asset is the Braeport Centre in Dunblane. Dunblane Development Trust currently leases the centre from Stirling Council and has successfully registered interest in a community right to buy under the Land Reform Act. The trust plans to develop the centre but requires ownership of the building to progress.
Perth and Kinross Council
The asset is Aberfeldy Town Hall. The council is about to open a new £3 million community campus in the town and will declare the town hall surplus to requirements. A town hall steering group was formed to consider options for its future use.
Glasgow City Council
The asset is the former public library in the Govanhill area of Glasgow. Glasgow City Council has established a series of arms-length council owned companies into which it has transferred many of its leisure services and cultural assets. This building falls into this category. The library has been closed for some time and the local community-owned housing association, which serves as a local anchor organisation is acting in the wider interest to take this asset back into community ownership.
City of Edinburgh Council
The asset is the Portobello Community Centre. There has been long standing local interest in taking over control of the community centre which has suffered from a lack of investment over the years. The council has recognised that in the current financial climate a different approach to the management and maintenance of its community centres is required.
North Lanarkshire Council
The assets in question are community facilities in the Bellshill and Coatbridge areas that had been identified for closure. However as a result of the consultation carried out by the council, strong community interest in taking ownership was identified and this has prompted the council to reconsider its strategy in respect to the closure programme.
Dumfries and Galloway Council
The asset is Moffat Town Hall. A Grade 2 listed building in council ownership, the council no longer has the resources to carry out the necessary repairs and maintenance. The Moffat Town Hall Redevelopment Trust has formed with the remit to redevelop and refurbish the Hall with enhanced facilities for community use. The council has agreed in principle to transfer the asset for a nominal sum.
There will be regular updates on the progress on the Support for Communities to Own Assets programme, on our website.