“The great British sell-off” – losing community assets to balance budgets

Since 2016, local authorities have been allowed to invest the proceeds of assets sold by April 2019 (now extended to 2021-22) into transforming frontline services, something they were previously prohibited from doing.  Following years of austerity and the extent of recent government funding cuts, it is not surprising that councils have used such money in this way.

However, the rate at which such assets are being sold has raised concerns over the potential loss of publicly-owned buildings and spaces.  Earlier this year, coinciding with the launch of their Save our Spaces campaign, Locality highlighted that on average more than 4,000 publicly owned buildings and spaces in England are being sold off every year – “more than four times the number of Starbucks in the UK.”

‘Financial predicament’

This year’s National Audit Office (NAO) report on the financial sustainability of councils highlights the financial predicament facing councils across the country. While it notes that the sector has done well to manage substantial funding cuts since 2010-11, financial pressure has increased markedly since 2014. In real terms, there has been a reduction in government funding of 49.1% since 2010, representing a reduction in local government spending power of 28.6%.

These cuts are coupled with rising demand for services and other cost pressures. For example, demand has increased for homelessness services and adult and children’s social care. The NAO highlights that from 2010-11 to 2016-17:

  • the number of households assessed as homeless and entitled to temporary accommodation under the statutory homeless duty increased by 33.9%;
  • the number of looked-after children grew by 10.9%; and
  • the estimated number of people in need of care aged 65 and over increased by 14.3%.

Other cost pressures have included higher national insurance contributions, the apprenticeship levy and the National Living Wage.

It is perhaps no shock that Northamptonshire county council became the first local authority since 1998 to be issued with a section 114 notice earlier this year, indicating it was unable to balance its books and at risk of being unable to set a legal budget for 2018/19. Nor is it indeed a shock that the NAO have identified other councils that are in danger of following suit in the next three years.

Despite this dire financial situation, it seems worse is to come. It has been recently announced that local services are to face a further £1.3bn cut in government funding in 2019/20. The revenue support grant, the main source of government funding for local services, will be cut by 36% next year – the largest annual deduction in almost a decade.

While the 2018 Budget has made provision for extra funding for adult social care, recent analysis suggests this falls short of what is needed to plug the projected funding gap.

Plugging the gap

In a desperate bid to raise finances, councils have been trying to find alternative income streams. A growing reliance on the use of reserves to offset funding reductions is an approach highlighted as unsustainable by the NAO. Most councils plan to increase or introduce charges for various services and many have also been making use of the government’s flexibility offer of using capital receipts to make improvements to services.

According to the NAO, in the year to April 2017, £118.5m of such capital receipts were used in this way. Locality has reported that the rate of asset sales has been consistently high for the last five years, with an average of 4,131 publicly owned buildings and spaces being sold off each year. Many councils are hoping to sell off their historic town halls to save much needed money. But it’s not just buildings that are under threat; council-owned parks and other land are also at risk. A recent parks survey, published by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE), found that 85% of councils surveyed expect a cut in parks and green space funding in the next year. In January, Knowsley council voted to go ahead with proposals to sell 10% of its parkland to fund the running of its remaining parks, since funding for its green spaces is to end in March 2019.

Locality warns that selling such assets on the open market could result in them being lost to the community forever as they have no real influence over what they will be used for; and could potentially lead to social, economic and environmental decline.

Indeed, concerns have been raised over the programme of disposing of council assets by Norfolk County Council, which has recently been reported to be looking to save £10m by selling its assets.

Locality suggests that community ownership is the answer to saving such assets under threat. Community Asset Transfer, set up in 2003, enables councils to sell assets to community organisations at below market rates in return for demonstrable community benefit.

In a bid to increase affordable housing supply, for example, Leicester City Council has sold council land worth more than £5m for less than £10 as part of deals with housing associations. However, the Locality report shows that less than half of councils have a Community Asset Transfer policy. It also notes that while community ownership is a ‘powerful alternative’ to losing public buildings and spaces, it is not straight forward, and community organisations face a number of barriers, including:

  • funding;
  • lack of expertise;
  • limited time; and
  • a lack of clear process.

With 95% of councils surveyed expecting the sell-off of publicly owned buildings and spaces to play an increasingly important role in the next five years, it is surely paramount that something is done to protect important community assets from being lost.

Way forward

Locality has called for the government to create a Community Ownership Fund and for a change in legislation to make it easier for community organisations to gain control of such assets.

Or perhaps councils could follow the example of others who, instead of selling their assets, are using them to generate revenue. Lewisham Council for example, is planning to raise £500k through hosting large commercial events in its parks.

Whatever route local authorities take, it remains to be seen if others will follow in the  footsteps of Northamptonshire or succeed in counteracting continuing cuts to maintain services and balance budgets; and indeed protect important community assets.


If you enjoyed reading this you may also like our previous blogs on the civic use of heritage assets and the value of green spaces.

Follow us on Twitter to discover which topics are interesting our research team.

The Govanhill Baths: a successful example of community-led regeneration

A run-down looking sign for the Govanhill Baths.

Image by Laura via Creative Commons

By Steven McGinty,

In September, the Govanhill Baths Community Trust (GHBT) was given £1.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The funding will enable the Trust to begin the refurbishment of the Govanhill Baths, including the ‘Ladies’ pool’, the ’Teaching Pool’ and the Turkish baths and sauna.

The Trust’s chair, Alan Walsh, highlighted that this was a ‘breakthrough’ moment, explaining that:

This award means that we can finally confirm the long term future of the project and begin work soon that will realise the aims of our 14 year fight to bring swimming back to Govanhill.”

History of the Govanhill Baths

The fight, referred to by the Trust’s chair, started back in 2001 with the high-profile campaign to save the Govanhill Baths. At that time, Glasgow City Council had indicated that £750,000 worth of refurbishments were required to keep the Baths open. However, they argued that there was no economic case as too few people used the Baths. And although these statistics were disputed, the Baths were eventually closed in 2001.

The impact of closure

In 2009, research was carried out into the impact of the closure on black and minority ethnic (BME) communities. The Govanhill area has a higher than average BME population (approximately 34.9%), therefore addressing social exclusion is a priority for the area. The research found that:

  • Older people were negatively affected by the closure as they found it difficult to access other swimming pools.  This occurred because of a lack of local transport to the Gorbals Swimming Pool (nearest alternative); fear over gangs and safety; and the cost of travelling.
  • Very few women went to the Gorbals Swimming Pool. The majority of women noted that it was difficult to find ladies’ swimming nights.
  • The Baths building had become derelict and vandalised.
  • The majority of people, including a police officer, felt that anti-social behaviour in the area had increased. One of the main reasons cited was a lack of activities and facilities, particularly for children and young people.

Govanhill Baths Community Trust ‘in the community’

In 2005, the Govanhill Baths officially became a charitable trust. The aim of the organisation was to:

…re-open the baths as a Wellbeing Centre and at the same time contribute to the wider social, cultural and built regeneration of Govanhill as a community through a range of activities.

Over the years, the Trust has worked in collaboration with a number of statutory and voluntary sector partners, including the Govanhill Baths Advice Centre, Govanhill Housing Association and Development Trust, and Historic Scotland.

At present, the Trust runs a variety of community-based wellbeing activities and educational and training courses, primarily aimed at the residents of Govanhill. These include:

  • Govanhill Baths Art – which includes using art to campaign, but also to improve the health and wellbeing of the community.
  • Rags to Riches – an award winning upcycling project, which reuses materials creatively to create products of a higher value. The project provides workspace and educational programmes in topics such as dressmaking, bookbinding, and home furnishing.
  • The Emporium – a charity shop which opened in 2011.

The impact of the Govanhill Baths Community Trust

An evaluation of Rags to Riches has shown the project to be a great success. It has brought a number of benefits to participants and the wider community, including:

  • Providing high-quality apparel that can be sold to generate income for the Trust.
  • Developing the abilities of participants and providing them with a sense of enjoyment.
  • Increasing the Trust’s involvement with other community groups and participating in local events. This has enhanced the reputation of the Trust within the local community.
  • Supporting community integration – for instance, after the event, most of the participants have kept in touch.

The Govanhill Grub programme, based in the GBCT kitchen, has proved to be successful at supporting a wide range of people in cooking healthy, affordable meals. It’s been particularly effective at bringing different members of the community together, and engaging women living in hostel accommodation or who have just moved into their own tenancy, as well as older men who live alone.

Final thoughts?

The GBCT is a great example of a community-led organisation. Although without its historic Baths, the community has been able to lead the way in delivering services to the people of Govanhill, the Trust has been able to move away from simply being a campaign group to becoming an important community asset.  Hopefully, with this latest announcement of funding, the Trust will be able to reopen the Baths, and continue to be a positive force in the community of Govanhill.


 

Further reading:

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also like to read James Carson’s post on regeneration in Glasgow’s Gorbals district

Follow us on Twitter to see what developments in policy and practice are interesting our research team.

Co-production in the criminal justice system

Community concept word cloud background

By Rebecca Jackson

Co-production in criminal justice was the core theme of a conference held last Wednesday by the Scottish Co-Production Network.

The speakers were invited to showcase their organisations as three examples of best practice. All the organisations have integrating partnerships and co-production at the heart of their values, and they spoke of the benefits and challenges they had faced, as three very different organisations, all looking to use co-production in the context of criminal justice.

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Supporting vulnerable women

Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow, is part of a national pilot which aims to develop community- based justice options for people who are offenders. This specific pilot focuses on vulnerable women with complex needs who are in, or have recently been involved in, the criminal justice system.

The women-only centre offers a safe space for women to come and spend time and to work with mentors to address the barriers and issues which prevent them from leading positive, healthy lives. In addition to this, the women are invited to contribute ideas towards the running of the centre, planning activities, contributing to a newsletter and hosting open days.

“The scheme gives vulnerable women a choice, a voice, a direction and opportunities”

The project is run in association with the social enterprise Outside the Box. There are some examples of Outside the Box’s other projects here.

woman hands isolated on sky background

Improving transitions from prison

Pete from Positive Prison? Positive Futures… delivered an inspiring and thought-provoking presentation about his experiences as a person with a conviction who had served time in prison and how that drove him to help others upon their release from prison. He helped to set up the organisation Positive Prison? Positive Futures… (PP?PF) which seeks to “improve the effectiveness of Scotland’s criminal justice system so as to reduce the harms caused by crime and to support the reintegration of those who are or have been subject to punishment”.

He was keen to stress that the charity is not a service provider; rather it is an initial point of contact to help direct people with convictions to the available and relevant services which already exist.

“We’re kind of like in space when you use the gravitational pull of an object to slingshot you in the right direction (Apollo 13 reference anyone?!). People are coming to us going one way, we come into contact with them, build their speed and send them in another, safer, hopefully better direction!”

In addition to this, the charity engages regularly with the Scottish Government as part of committees looking into reform of the prison service, the redesign of community justice and have, among other things, influenced policy decisions around the release of individuals from prison including transitional care.

The charity works with recently released, or soon to be released people with convictions, looking at building relationships during the vulnerable first few weeks ‘on the outside’ where re-offending and suicide rates are high. They also offer mentoring to help prepare people for the transition from prison life.

Two adult education students studying together in class.

Co-production and young people

Space Unlimited is a social enterprise based in Glasgow, which offers a creative space for young people to become involved in the planning and review of the criminal youth justice system. It encourages young people from vulnerable backgrounds, as well as young people who have served time in prison, to use their experiences to change how offending and criminal justice is viewed by young people.

The scheme aims to provide a space to show how young people can use their views to influence how the system can work best for them, to avoid re-offending and help integrate them back into society. The young people interact with adult stakeholders from across the local authority and criminal justice sector, as well as charities and third sector organisations.

“We promote and encourage children and young people to view themselves as experts in their own right, using their own experiences to promote positive change in the youth criminal justice system”

Category Picture Community Development

Creating new spaces for dialogue

What all of the case studies sought to highlight were the key elements of co-production:

      • Assets
      • Capacity
      • Mutuality
      • Networks
      • Shared roles
      • Catalysts

The speakers discussed their learning and experiences, as well as the challenges they face, but all highlighted the fundamental belief underpinning co-production – that service users and service providers can learn from one another. We create better services by engaging service users – creating services with people, not for them.

Co-production is an approach which is widely spoken about in health and social care, but as the conference and its speakers highlighted, the application and remit of co-production could be rolled out over other areas of policy too. It is all about finding groups of people willing to engage and to listen – creating a space for an exchange of dialogue, knowledge and learning. And the results could potentially be hugely beneficial for both service users and service providers. This video from the New Economics Foundation (NEF) highlights some of the benefits of co-production in practice.


Co-producing Positive Futures learning event: how co-production, learning and partnership building can improve community experiences and engage people in the criminal justice system. Scottish Co-production Network, Glasgow, 28 October 2015.