The context for asset transfer within Scotland has been the increased interest in, and appreciation of the value of, community ownership as a key element in building stronger, more resilient communities. The bottom up drivers for this have been the rise of community controlled housing associations (and tenant co-operatives), the community land buy-outs which have taken place largely in the North West of Scotland and the development of community owned renewable energy projects with their potential to generate significant income streams for communities.
In between, communities throughout Scotland have, in recent years, acquired a wide range of physical assets – from village halls to castles and from sports facilities to ferries. Asset transfer (the transfer of public assets into community ownership – ideally at less than market value) is, therefore, very much one element, albeit an important element , of this broader phenomenon.
At a policy level, the Scottish Government have introduced a number of measures to respond to, and encourage, this process and are committed to doing more over the next couple of years. One of the most popular measures which the new Scottish Parliament introduced was the Land Reform Act, which included a ‘Community Right To Buy’, provision.
This enables communities of less than 10,000 people to register interest in a piece of land or physical asset, and gives the community the right of first refusal, should this asset become available. The current administration are committed to reviewing (and perhaps extending) the CRTB provision.
Three years ago, the Scottish Government, in conjunction with the Confederation of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) launched Scotland’s first Community Empowerment Action Plan, which recognised and stressed the importance of community ownership. On the back of this the Scottish Government funded the Development Trusts Association Scotland to run a two year programme to raise awareness and improve the practice of local authority asset transfer, and at the end of the programme to establish a Community Ownership Support Service (again focusing primarily on local authority asset transfer).
Partly as a result of this work, Scottish local authorities are now developing their own asset transfer strategies and procedures. The Scottish Government also introduced regulations to empower local authorities to dispose of assets at less than market value (previously this required to be signed off by a Scottish Government minister).
Last year the Scottish Government reviewed regeneration activity in Scotland, and in December, launched a new Regeneration Policy which challenges much of the historical regeneration practice in Scotland and promotes community-led regeneration. Community ownership and asset transfer are recognised as potentially crucial elements of community-led regeneration.
The asset transfer agenda in Scotland was given a further boost when the Christie Commission, established by the Scottish Government to look into the future provisioning of public services within Scotland, recognised that transferring assets to communities, along with the transfer of some services, may well be a crucial part of future public service delivery.
In May, the Scottish National Party, were elected to the Scottish Parliament with a record majority, and their manifesto contained a number of commitments which will maintain and potentially increase momentum around asset transfer. In addition to the afore mentioned review of the Community Right To Buy legislation, the new Government will shortly launch a consultation around a proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (which will enable communities to take on underused assets and derelict land).
While the scope of this Bill is still unclear, DTAS would hope that it extends the discretionary right of local authorities to transfer assets at less than market value to other public bodies. In addition the new Scottish Government is also committed to re-introducing the Scottish Community Land Fund, which helped to fund some of the early land acquisitions, and is regarded as a crucial factor in further extending community ownership.
Previously: A property asset is much like any other asset…
Ian Cooke is Director of the Development Trusts Association Scotland.