REPORT OF DIRECTOR OF TECHNICAL SERVICES
Community Asset Transfer
HEAD OF SERVICE & DESIGNATION.
P Lumley – Head of Property Services
AUTHOR & DESIGNATION
P Murray – Grounds Maintenance Manager
The County Council is facing significant efficiency savings over the next 3 years and non statutory services currently being delivered may require a different delivery solution in light of these challenges. In order to achieve this the community asset transfer of parks, playgrounds and playing fields is fundamentally about giving local people and community groups greater control in the future delivery of these services within their area and their community.
It is also recognised that the way physical assets are managed can have a very positive impact on the long term strength of local communities and the third sector more generally. Through asset ownership, community based groups can grow and become more secure, gaining access to sources of additional funding that the Authority may not be able to access. In order to be successful, asset transfer requires a long term partnership approach between the authority and the community based groups that take over the management of an asset in order that these funding opportunities can be successfully accessed.
Ideally expressions of interest from local people and community groups should meet the following criteria:
● They must be community led with strong links with the local community and relevant sporting organisations and local teams. Local people must be able to control the organisations decision making process.
● Their primary purpose must be to enhance service provision to the local community.
● The organisation and key individuals managing the asset and associated project, have appropriate skills, knowledge and expertise to sustain the project in the long term.
● They must be open to and demonstrate an inclusive approach to members of the wider community.
● They must not duplicate activities, services or facilities already provided in the local community.
It is also essential that where asset transfer of sporting facilities is concerned that the various sports governing bodies are fully aware of how the Authority proposes to tackle the issue of asset transfer as they will be a key component in the process. Their support and advice will prove to be essential if the asset to be transferred is to come to fruition.
In order to drive the process of asset transfer forward discussions with the governing bodies of the sports affected have taken place to share with them the issues around potential funding problems and benefits that may accrue from the transfer of the asset. In this way the governing body can advise the organisation on what steps are required and what information it needs to prepare for the challenges faced by the individual groups.
Initial meetings have been held with a number of interested parties following the increase sporting charges set out by the County Council last financial year. The meetings have been led by local members and have included representations from the local sporting fraternity and community councillors. It is essential that all parties currently using the facilities are engaged at this early stage to ensure that a clear and transparent sharing of issues is undertaken. Details of how the facility is currently managed and run will be discussed together with an outline of what present and future liabilities may accompany the site. An indication of all maintenance costs associated with the site will also be provided.
The organisation must then decide whether it wishes to proceed along the route of asset transfer. It should be noted that only a holistic approach should be followed rather than a fragmented approach. This will ensure that all aspects of the site are covered in one document rather than a number of document`s making the site easier to manage. As an example this would result in a whole Park being transferred to a properly structured locally based organisation.
A mutually agreed time scale is suggested for the discussion surrounding the transfer to take place however, every application will be different as some sites will be more complex than others. Where a formal commitment is received from the organisation to proceed along the asset transfer route it has been recommended that there should be a freeze in charges levied whilst discussions are ongoing. Should an agreement not be reached within this time scale then the charges applicable within that particular year will be implemented immediately for the use of the facility. During this period the authority will also provide all the necessary support and advice required on the proposed setting up of the organisation.
Should the organisation wish to proceed with asset transfer then it is proposed to implement the following process with Committee`s approval:-
● Initial enquiry to be submitted through Community Bureau to be registered on master database (this will allow for the recording of interest and the production of analysis by departments when required).
● At an early stage they will be advised of the requirements for submission:-
1. Business Plan
2. Maintenance Strategy
3. Health and Safety Documentation
6. Public Liability requirements
7. Qualifications required
9. Evidence of need, letters of support, (should they be requesting external funding for the scheme)
10. A lease will be provided to the organisation for 99 years.
11. A three year transitional maintenance proposal will be introduced whereby the maintenance liability will transfer to the new organisation in year three. In the first year all maintenance costs will be covered by the Authority (100%) and works will be carried as currently with directly employed staff. During the second year the authority will reduce the maintenance funding by 40%, the organisation therefore has two options available to it. Firstly to contract the work out, a condition of which is that the Authority is allowed to tender for the work. This condition must be incorporated in an agreement with the organisation (this could be in the terms of the lease) Secondly, the authority to undertake the work on a rechargeable basis on behalf of the organisation. Year three, the organisation will be totally responsible for the maintenance and management of the facility. During the whole process the organisation must ensure that the site is maintained fit for purpose and must comply with the terms contained within of the lease.
12. All income derived from the use of the asset will be levied and kept by the new organisation
● Once the Expression of Interest is returned, assessment of correct paperwork will be undertaken and then put through for assessment and referrals to the relevant officers for assistance will be made and recorded.
● This is then to be taken to a working group for evaluation of viability. This will be to determine best course of action to the authority and address any implications and deficiencies arising such as length of lease, local development plan, assessment of value to the authority i.e. worth more as a sale to the authority, value for money etc
● As the business case will be available it can then be subsequently presented at the appropriate council committee for final approval. It must be emphasized that at this point any offer made must be final and once a decision is reached then the proposed offer must stand and there should be no retraction.
● It is at this stage the lease will be drawn up by Corporate Property and the relevant officers assisting will look at the requirements for external funding for the scheme if capital refurbishment is required. All documentation advised to organisation will be required for grant funding including lease (approximate timescale for the documentation is three months, grant funding can take up to six months for approval with external partners).
Should the foregoing process be adopted then this process can be implemented and it is suggested that quarterly meetings be arranged during each financial year formalising the process for all parties.