The Forum debated the development of a Community Asset Devolution Policy that first reviews the purpose, use and cost of all assets owned by the Council. This review would equip the Council with the information required to:
· Identify those assets required by the Council to discharge its statutory functions;
· Those assets best owned and managed by the Council to deliver the aims of the Council Plan;
· Those assets that may deliver greatest community benefit through ownership and management by the communities in which they lie.
The Forum then considered the draft procedure for requests for asset transfer.
The Chairman explained the dual approach to developing the policy alongside the procedure, in order to clarify to consultees both the Council’s direction of travel but also what the process would look like.
The procedure set out clear objectives, the decision making approach, and expected timeframe. The policy would go out to own and parish councils as consultees, with the feedback taken into account before putting the policy before Cabinet and Council for approval.
The intention was to give as much flexibility as possible to the local community on how the asset can be managed, including if they can generate an income from it. The Council would need to protect the public uses but at same time ensure that others were given the freedom to make those assets work for them. It was envisaged that assets might often be grouped within a locality.
The pilot with Beer Parish Council had helped shape the procedure, using this as a test bed, with a view to applying the approach to other communities.
It was noted that Newton Poppleford Parish Council were also examining how the toilet block and car park could be better managed under their control.
Discussion from the Forum included:
· How prepared, and what resource, town and parish councils had to prepare their submission for an asset transfer, including a clear business case;
· Availability of complete data on assets was key, and there was still outstanding work on pulling together data sets on the assets;
· Basic information on assets was known, but less so on future cost liabilities;
· Need to make clear that assets would not be considered piecemeal – that a community needed to have a holistic approach to their area and the assets contained in it;
· Some elements, such as grounds maintenance, may be contracted back to the Council;
· The policy did not provide the opportunity for local communities to “cherry pick” assets; those that provided an income to the Council would remain in Council ownership;
· Assets would be transferred in a working order, but not necessarily in a refurbished state; however the intention of the policy was not to offload poor assets;
· Producing a definitive asset list at this stage would mean that focus would fall on individual assets, rather than the purpose of the policy or a holistic approach managing assets;
· Assets would be transferred as leasehold or freehold and include consideration of long term retention of the asset. No transfer would take place unless there was confidence that the business case was robust and the local community could deliver it;
· Economies of scale were being considered and taken into account; however once an asset had been transferred, there was a limited ability for the Council to have influence over that asset, such as a standard of décor, unless included in the terms of transfer;
· It was key to have robust, clear criteria and decision making process so all parties are clear what the outcome will look like.
RECOMMEND to Cabinet that the Community Asset Transfer Policy approach and the Community Asset Transfer Procedure be endorsed in principle, and the consultation with town and parish councils commence.
RESOLVED Report back to the Forum the consultation feedback and any subsequent revision for debate.