#CATJRF: Is there is a ‘new politics’ underlying the transfer of capital assets to communities?

I’ll be very interested in FitzJamesHorse’s comments on this morning’s seminar on Community Asset Transfer. Lisa’s more authoritative account(s) will follow. Here’s some quick thoughts of my own.

One, this ‘community’ is rather different to the one that many of us associate with the major imperatives of conflict resolution (or conflict management as David Ervine often referred to it). Owning and managing assets imply a shift from the old deficit model, which relied on claims of suffering

Two, there are no doubt some dangers of ‘capture’ by larger business or political interests, but with the acquisition of assets comes responsibilies as well as a degree of empowerment.

Three, it’s becoming clear that Community Asset Transfer is not the actual point of this debate. What’s more important than the tool is what it can do. Brendan Murtagh emphasised the multiplier effect of communities owning and running services and/or property. Steve Wyler of Locality calls it ‘capitalising the poor’.

There are concerns though. How do you maintain legitimacy within the community when you are running wider services? What are the opportunities and dangers of collaboration with both public and private sectors?  How does government make decisions at a time when money’s too tight to mention?

I’m keen to give space here on Slugger for people to give us more detail on this. What’s the perspective  on this from inside government? From the private sector? From a union perspective: is this swapping real jobs for no jobs? And more case studies and knowledge share from big established social enterprises for new entrants?

In conversation afterwords it seems clear that the capacity for communities to make autonomous decision can be increased by the holding and development of capital assets. Not everyone is going agree that that is necessarily a good thing.


  • Red Rob

    Good the see the debate underway both at the event yesterday and on Slugger. Some excellent presentations yesterday from practitioners here and in England and plenty to consider in developing an appropriate mechanism to fully open up asset transfer from the public sector in NI.

    There is clear political support here to increase the financial sustainability of the voluntary and community sector and the new Programme for Government contains firm commitments around supporting social enterprise growth and actively promotingq community asset transfer.

    There are a number of challenges though in taking this work forward.

    Is the Sector in NI ready to accept management and ownership of substantial public assets? What level of support needs to be provided to the Sector to enable it to compete on a level playing field?

    How do we change mindsets across a traditionally risk averse public sector, bound by audit and financial constraints?

    Will a new policy framework be sufficient to embed asset transfer across central and local government?

    These are just some of the issues but I am convinced that we can bring forward a robust and deliverable policy framework, building on best practice established elsewhere across the UK. This will require Ministerial and Executive approval but will send out a clear signal of future direction. And of the new opportunities available for government and Third Sector organisations.

    If this policy later needs to be supplemented by legislation then this could possibly be introduced along with other planned RPA legislation. The are good examples of where legislation in other administrations, eg, Community Right to Buy, has firmly embedded the asset transfer concept within local authorities.

    A challenging and exciting agenda but we have enough knowledge , skills and entrepreneurial initiative he to make this happen.

  • Mick Fealty

    Good question. Not least since as the SIB are doing an audit of public assets government might transfer it is less obvious who might want them and more importantly, who actually has the capacity (or potential, even groups with huge capacity began with none) to run them sustainably.

    It seemed to me that one of the good things we got from the cross channel contributors was permission to say to no to what comes on offer from Government.

    Good, because although there must as Steve Wylie pointed out to be a provision for failure, it’s also important to recognise the limitations of capacity and, as Paul Roberts points out, not every asset is actually an asset.

    My hope is that this series as it goes on (and begins to get more clarity) that people will start to use these comment threads as the start of a knowledge share process, and in doing so in so public a place begin to explain to the rest of us (me included) as to what all of this means.

    I think this – although secondary to the point you raise – is important. There’s a degree of cold blooded scepticism about the idea, an awful lot of it predicated on the fear of unintended consequences, subterranean agendas, etc.

    The best way to dispell that is to get involved directly in these conversations.