Why we must unleash the potential of community ownership across England

Daniel Monaghan, Policy Officer at the Co-operative Party, says that the findings of the new Unleashing Community Ownership report provides a blueprint for creating the environment for community ownership to thrive.

Reversing the decline of our high streets and town centres is integral to restoring civic pride and rebuilding local economies. The last decade has been marked by a persistent loss of local institutions which are at the heart of our communities, whether that be the local pub, shops, music venues, cinemas or leisure centres. These assets bring people together, provide leisure and entertainment and form the basis of social engagement – they are crucial to our way of life and happiness.

Community ownership provides an effective way to save civic assets at risk of loss and enables them to be owned and operated by communities directly for the long-term. The Community Ownership Commission was established to research how the benefits of community ownership can be spread to all regions of England.

Today the findings of the Community Ownership Commission have been published in their new report, Unleashing Community Ownership. Authored by Mark Gregory, Visiting Professor at Staffordshire University and former Chief Economist at EY, the report provides a blueprint for creating the environment for community ownership to thrive.

Unleashing Community Ownership aims to empower communities with the rights, funding and support they need to take community ownership to the next level. The first step is introducing a new Community Right to Buy – which would replace the less effective Community Right to Bid. A new Community Right to Buy would provide community groups with first refusal on listed assets of community value (ACVs) – giving community groups the opportunity to purchase ACVs without competition in an expanded time window. The new Community Right to Buy would ensure more assets come onto the market, by putting pressure on owners to use their assets more productively or sell them to communities.

The new powers must have the right funding structure to achieve transformative growth. This is particularly true for low income and marginalised groups, which cannot rely exclusively on self-financing. The report recommends the Community Ownership Fund be devolved to local authorities and reshaped so that funding can be used more flexibly and be targeted towards groups with greater need. This could be supported by the wider use of dormant assets and new investment from the British Business Bank.

Devolving the Community Ownership Fund will help to make it more central to local authority local growth plans. These plans form a key part of delivering local economic development and community ownership should be a key aspect of restoring vibrancy and activity to our town centres.

With over 11,000 community businesses operating in England, community ownership is already emerging as a transformative approach to local economic development. The Community Ownership Commission’s report provides a pathway for realising this potential.

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