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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Social Value and Community Asset Transfer

Tomorrow's Brent Council Cabinet meeting has two interesting items on Community Asset Transfer.  One is to the Kilburn Cosmos in Gladstone Park; the other is for a pavilion in Northwick Park.  Both involve Community Asset Transfer.  Part of the documentation in both cases is being kept secret. 

The policy seems to have a bearing on the possible fate of the former Preston Library.  The policy states:

The CAT policy is underpinned by five principles:

1.      1.  Community asset transfers will support the priorities of the Borough Plan;
2. Organisations  that benefit from the transfer need to be credible, constituted, financially viable with a clear business case;
3. The services and building need to promote equality and community cohesion;
4. All opportunities should be advertised;
5. Buildings should be transferred on a repairing leasehold basis.

 An application under this policy might simplify some aspects of an attempt to take the former Preston Library out of the hands of the Council.  However, I don't think it would do away with potential problems.  On the first criterion, the main group interested in the building argues it should be a library, which is not remotely in line with the Council's successful library strategy.  The second ground would certainly have posed severe problems for the group at previous times, although I dare say they have formalised their governance rather more by now.  The "clear business case" would probably still be an issue since their core purpose has always been as a library, which conflicts with the Council's evidence base over the need for services.  Equality and community cohesion should provide no problem, although being expected to meet these criteria was actually a grounds of challenge in the Bailey case on Libraries.  Advertising the opportunities might lead to quite a lot of competition for the building as I have suggested before.  The final condition, a repairing leasehold, sounds reasonable.

It does, however, make me wonder about the "peppercorn rent" that the Preston Library group thought it had.  Would they have understood it to include the cost of repairs, I wonder?  Presumably the wider fiducary duties of the Council still apply in all these cases, so it is worrying that there appears little detail on this in the report.  Possibly all this is covered in the secret documents, but the public documents carry little reassurance that the Council is monitoring what it is getting or that it has a clear valuation of the value of the assets.  I fear that the vague phrase "social value" can cover all sorts of well meaning but misguided thinking. 

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