Community asset transfer: news of a Scottish bid and activity in Birmingham

From short-term licences to long leases, local community and voluntary groups are seeking opportunities to take on the management or ownership of buildings and land. ‘Community Asset Transfer’ or in Scotland ‘Asset Transfer’ has enabled thousands of buildings and spaces across England, such as swimming pools, town halls, libraries and parks to be taken on and successfully managed by community organisations for the benefit of their local community.

A community buyout bid is being made for Ulva, a beautiful 12km-long island with fine heather moors and mossy woods, off Scotland’s west coast. 

In 1837 more than 600 people lived on Ulva; there are now only six residents. In the four years to 1851, when potato blight and failure of the local kelp industry left the population destitute, the laird deported three-quarters of Ulva’s residents. Jamie Howard, the resident owner, puts the more recent population slump down to the “special and difficult challenges of living on a small, remote island with rough roads and limited housing stock”.

Barry George, who came to live on Ulva twenty years ago, said there were then 27 residents who would join together for Burns Night and Christmas parties: “The whole community has collapsed. There are five empty houses sitting there, empty . . . It’s quite shameful really.” Many of the buildings on the island show signs of neglect. A stepladder holds up the pulpit roof in the church. Slates are missing and wood frames rotting at the manse and other cottages. He added: “I don’t see what can possibly be wrong with right-to-buy, if the people who own the land are given a fair price.”

When Mr Howard put Ulva up for sale this year, asking for over £4m, local community organisers saw an opportunity for change.

The North West Mull Community Woodland Company, which operates forestry and related businesses on behalf of residents of the area of Mull that includes Ulva, has made a community buyout bid to bring Ulva under the control of local residents. Colin Morrison, chairperson of the Woodland Company, said : “Our drive would be to repopulate it, to bring business. There’s huge tourism potential.” (Left: director of the Woodland Company John Addy). A feasibility study commissioned by the Woodland Company for the community buyout argues that renovation of the housing stock would attract new residents and higher rents would then help the estate to cover its operating costs.

Today the Times reported that the Electoral Reform Society, which supervised the ballot, announced that out of 401 of those eligible to vote 255 had responded, with 163 in favour of the bid and 91 against. Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government’s environment secretary, will have to approve the bid and she is expected to do this in the next few days.

Donald Munro sails the ferry across the narrow sound to Mull

In Birmingham:

  • Witton Lodge Community Association piloted Birmingham’s first community asset transfer in 2010 – Perry Common Community Hall – now a thriving community hub.
  • Castle Pool Community Partnership – successful transfer of local community swimming and leisure facility.
  • Spitfire Services (formerly known as Castle Vale TRA) – successful transfer (licence to operate) of Tyburn Library.
  • Moseley Road Baths Action Group – working with a range of partners to secure the future of Moseley Road Baths – ongoing.
  • Wildside Activity Centre – working to support the board and CEO to secure the transfer of the centre and develop the business into a sustainable community asset – ongoing.

Some members of Localise West Midlands are playing a part in the Moseley venture.

 

 

o

o

The Centre for Retail Research – some common ground?

The Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has provided authoritative research and analysis of the retail and service sectors for twenty-one years in Britain, Europe and North America and is completely independent, not funded by the retail sector or suppliers.

In an article on its website, a ‘recalibration of policy’ is advocated.

Themes relevant today:

  • Create a comprehensive industrial strategy, based on local needs and using local knowledge.
  • Replace imports and create the vital supply chains needed by British business.
  • Build housing, potentially a provider of 1mn new jobs and a swift way of improving the living standards and opportunities.
  • Increase the focus on learning science, maths, technical subjects and foreign languages;
  • Abandon the current emphasis on university as the only useful goal for young people;
  • Increase vocational training, retraining and part-time study for adults.
  • Renew concern for manufacturing industry and jobs rather than focussing only on retail, service industries, banking and the City of London.
  • Legislate for government permission to be required before a significant UK business is bought by a foreign company.

Localisers would find some common ground here.

*

CRR’s retail recommendations:

  • A level playing field where online businesses face the same levels of corporation tax and property tax as does retailing through stores.
  • Higher wages for retail workers and better jobs, which will probably mean fewer jobs, more automation and perhaps fewer stores.
  • Reform of Insolvency laws to ensure that creditors, employees and pensioners are better served than they are at present by legislation designed to keep failing companies alive.

And the summary of a Localise West Midlands exploratory report (2008-9) expresses the value of independent retail:

Retail plays an essential role in a localised supply chain of food and other goods; ‘walkable’ retail builds social inclusion and reduces the need for the car; social capital and local multiplier are stronger in a town centre full of independent shops, and local distinctiveness is another benefit”.

 

 

 

o

Rebuild the local economy: prioritise labour-intensive sectors, difficult to automate, impossible to relocate abroad

Colin Hines, co-founder of LWM and convenor of the UK Green New Deal Group, comments on the Guardian’s recent editorial on productivity and robots which ‘repeated the cliché that automation does cost jobs, but more are created’.

He says that the problem with this is that the new jobs are frequently in different places from where they are lost and require very different skills, hence exacerbating the problems for the “left behind”.

Also unmentioned was that just as automation is starting to really bite, the world faces a strong possibility of another serious credit-induced economic downturn, from China to the UK and a perfect storm of domestic unemployment soaring and export markets falling, as happened after the 2008 economic slump.

The answer to these problems has to be a shift of emphasis to rebuilding the local economy by prioritising labour-intensive sectors that are difficult to automate and impossible to relocate abroad.

Two sectors are key:

  • face-to-face caring from medicine, education and elderly care
  • carbon-reducing national infrastructural renewal.

This should range from making the UK’s 30m buildings energy efficient, constructing new low-carbon dwellings and rebuilding local public transport links.

Funding could come from fairer taxes, local authority bonds in which all could invest, green ISAs and a massive new green infrastructure QE programme.

This approach should become central to all political parties, set out in their next election manifestos because “jobs in absolutely every constituency” is the crucial vote-winning mantra.

 

n

Anchoring community wealth

Preston’s skyline: Carl Ji, a Chinese student, at the University of Central Lancashire

Austerity has been devolved to local councils and, perversely, areas with higher levels of poverty have been hit hardest, councils have on average faced 40% cuts in their budgets.

In the face of adversity councils such as Preston have responded by bringing together anchor institutions and working with them to drive through a local programme of economic transformation. The government’s Commission for Employment and Skills defines an ‘anchor institution’ as “one that, alongside its main function, plays a significant and recognised role in a locality by making a strategic contribution to the local economy” and ‘tending’ to be non-profit.

By changing their procurement policies, these anchor institutions were able to drive up spending locally protecting businesses and jobs. They are looking at the council pension fund to see if its investment can support local businesses keeping the money circulating in their town.

A study by the Centre for Local Economic Strategies found that six of the anchor institutions in the area are now spending 18% of their budget in Preston, up from 5% in 2013. So an extra £75 million a year is being spent within the city, with the top 300 local suppliers creating an extra 800 jobs last year alone. And others are watching: Manchester city council has now increased its local spend from 44% of its budget to 70%; Lowestoft and Salford are also interested.

Last year this blog reported that Birmingham City Council was to work with Centre for Local Economic Strategies, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust and support from Localise West Midlands, to see how anchor institutions in the non-profit and private sectors, including Birmingham University, Pioneer Housing and the QE hospital, could use their spending power to increase economic opportunities for Birmingham’s communities, businesses and citizens. Read more on the council website here.

In a separate project, Localise West Midlands has been working with the Midland Metropolitan Hospital (under construction, artist’s impression) which will be the closest adult hospital to the centre of Birmingham. The Sandwell & West Birmingham NHS Trust and LWM are partners in Urban Innovative Actions supporting the development of the local economy. The Trust hopes to spend 2% of the new hospital’s annual budget with local suppliers, adding £5-8m to the local economy. It will provide locally sourced meals and the builder has a target of 70% local employment, aiming to source 80% of construction materials locally.

Alice Thomson in The Times pointed out that making a legal requirement that councils buy and hire goods and services locally is banned by EU law at the moment, so it should be noted that the Preston project operates on a voluntary basis.

She commented: “The government should take the idea and encourage it, particularly in hollowed-out market towns where out of town shopping centres have crushed their sense of identity” adding “But (procurement policies) could also be used for more high-profile programmes such as the rebuilding of Big Ben, where the steel has had to come from Brazil, Germany and the United Arab Emirates, or the V&A which showcases Britain’s greatest designs but where the tiles for the new forecourt came from Holland”.

 

 

k

A strategic alternative: localised and labour-intensive food production

LWM’s co-founder Colin Hines, in his latest book, Progressive Protectionism, asks: “In a sustainable system, would not each country aim to produce its own staple food? Surpluses and exotics could be exported, speculation in food by unproductive middlemen would be outlawed and vitally important food producers encouraged at every turn”.

He notes that at present, the UK feeds only around 60% of its population of 65 million. The EU was the next largest supplier at 27%. The distribution of UK imports from Europe has changed relatively little over the last 15 years. Other food travels much further: click on the link for a larger picture: http://www.coolgeography.co.uk/A-level/AQA/Year%2012/Food%20supply/Changes%20in%20food%20supply/Food%20Miles%20Britain.png

There is no guarantee that these supplies would continue under the same terms following the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and there are other potential threats, such as drought, floods and/or increased global demand.

A 2007 study ‘Can Britain feed itself?’ by Simon Fairlie estimated that it could, but that the dietary changes would be significant including:

  • far less meat consumption,
  • feeding livestock upon food wastes and residues;
  • returning human sewage to productive land;
  • dispersal of animals on mixed farms and smallholdings,
  • local slaughter and food distribution;
  • managing animals to ensure optimum recuperation of manure;
  • and selecting and managing livestock, especially dairy cows, to be nitrogen providers.

Hines notes that these measures would demand more human labour and a more even dispersal of livestock and humans around the country.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) promotes a global economy which requires agricultural commodities to be transported for long distances, processed and packaged to survive the journey. As global food production and trade probably consume more fossil fuel than any other industrial sector, substantially increasing greenhouse gas emissions and making climate objectives much harder to achieve, i ts Agreement on Agriculture should be superseded by a World Localisation Organisation (WLO), under which all countries would be encouraged to reach maximum self-sufficiency in food.

Trade in food which cannot be grown domestically should be obtained, where feasible, from neighbouring countries. Long-distance trade should be limited to food not available in the region and countries exporting food should use the revenue to increase their own level of food security.

Hines ends by endorsing – as the answer – Tim Lang’s injunctions in the Foreword to the report of the Sustainable Development Commission (above left): calling for significantly less food wastage, more produced from less land and dietary change – eating more plant-based foods, less meat and dairy.

 

 

 

k

Cargonomia: shrinking the distance between producers and consumers 

Planet Local, which highlights examples of localization in action all over the planet, is a project of Economics of Happiness/Local Futures/The International Alliance for Localization. In March thumbnail sketches of three ethical local banks were published here.

The local food movement is about growing food and also shrinking the distance between producers and consumers — and a new initiative in Hungary is doing just that.

In Budapest, an organic vegetable farm, a do-it-yourself bicycle cooperative and a self-managed bike delivery company teamed up to create Cargonomia, an urban food distribution hub which uses locally-manufactured cargo bikes to deliver locally-grown food across the entire city. And the project continues to grow: Two local bakeries have joined Cargonomia which now delivers bread across the city as well as vegetables.

Read more about this one-of-a-kind collaboration here. Within the team of partners, there is expertise in designing and constructing different types of cargo bikes and trailers.

It’s a business model which utilises each partner’s strengths: vegetable deliveries from Zsamboki Biokert are coordinated by Kantaa’s distribution experts and made using Cyclonomia’s bikes. In this way, Cargonomia goes beyond ‘local food’ to encompass the entire local economy. It aims to help local food producers: organic food producers, vineries, apiaries.

It hosts a community centre where local residents can borrow, rent, or buy their own cargo bikes, organise or attend activities focusing on the transition to a local-scale economy and events to connect with other social and environmental initiatives in the city.

Localise West Midlands is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

n

A local alternative to Uber?

Transport for London has decided not to give Uber a new license, though its app (Uber requires drivers and users to have a smartphone) will still be operational in London while Uber appeals against the decision.

More information about its problems and bans in several cities and countries may be seen on the West Midlands New Economics site.

The New Economics Foundation has called for a mutually-owned, publicly-regulated alternative to Uber, providing better working conditions for drivers and higher safety standards for passengers.

Stefan Baskerville (NEF: Unions and Business) said:

“Digital platforms are here to stay and technology cannot be reversed. The question now is how they should be controlled and by whom, as well as the standards they set and how they treat people. It is time to develop alternative models which put people back in control”.

As NEF points out, drivers in different parts of the UK are developing their own platforms.

In 2015 Cab:app was co-founded by London taxi driver Peter Schive, who said: ‘Cab:app draws on the heritage and expertise of the black cab industry and translates it for the digital world.

Other early examples included the Bristol Taxi App – abbreviated to Braxi – which will only employ drivers licensed by Bristol City Council. Farouq Hussain, ‘one of the brains behind the app’, described it as being “just like Uber, only local”, with no surcharge and 25% pay cut. He added: “Our app takes the best of Uber and makes it local”.

The most recent: in June Anlaby-based 966 Taxis in Hull designed and launched its Uber-style app which they believe could transform the service. Alice Martin (NEF: Lead for Work) said: “TFL’s move will send ripples across the country where there has been a recent surge in private hire licenses given out to support Uber’s growth, particularly in the Midlands, Yorkshire and the North West” adding:

We’ve been working with drivers in different parts of the UK who are developing their own platforms. The time has come for the Mayor to back a better alternative to Uber and lead the way for other local authorities to do the same”.

 

 

 

b

Complexity or resilience?

In the Times, Ed Conway (right), economics editor of Sky News, describes problems arising from the complexity of ‘the hallmark of 21st-century life’ and the International Alliance for Localization records examples of new modes of development and progress.

Conway writes about the vast supply chains, financial instruments and legal structures ‘sitting beneath every industry’:

  • Where once a company made its products in one country, these days most sophisticated goods are the product of many hundreds of contractors from around the world, eventually assembled into one unit and quickly shipped to your door.
  • Where once a bank manager would know to whom he lent money, these days debts can be packaged and repackaged so many times that the link between borrower and lender is effectively lost.
  • Financial globalisation — the ability to move money seamlessly from country to country leaves countries even more vulnerable to banking crises.
  • And in much the same way as companies outsource non-core production and services, the public sector delegates responsibilities to private operators.
  • By replacing tightly knit relationships with impersonal complex structures we lost something — consider the 2008 financial crisis,

The complexity of the regulatory system played a part in the Grenfell Tower disaster tragedy. Not only were regulations extensive yet oddly vague — allowing builders to use various loopholes — they were not even checked by government officials. These days contractors in England can instead hire “approved inspectors”, private outfits which provide a bit of advice and tick the appropriate boxes.

Globalisation, once a means of boosting everyone’s income, has instead evolved into an excellent vehicle to help the rich get richer.

The International Alliance for Localization sees that the building of more resilient economies will require a rethinking of the financial system, and its Planet Local series has been turning the spotlight on some inspiring examples of ethical banking:

* In Maine, USA, a local resident with money to invest  is providing nearby small farmers with loans whose interest is paid exclusively in the form of farm products.

* Brazil’s Banco Palmas, governed and managed by residents of the impoverished Palmeiras neighborhood in the city of Fortaleza, has issued a local currency, dramatically shifted spending patterns to keep money circulating locally, and extended basic financial services to people shut out of the mainstream banking system.

* In Croatia, the democratically-owned Ebanka functions as a non-profit bank, in stark contrast to most financial institutions worldwide. Their loans are given without interest, and every member has an equal voice when it comes to voting on big decisions, regardless of the value of their deposit.?

Visit IAL’s growing library of localization initiatives

 

LWM is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.

 

 

 

c

 

Localising new-build housing

Architect and writer Clive Aslet (left) writes about a development of 4,000 houses on 500 acres – houses, small apartment blocks, schools, surgeries, mixed income housing, shops, business premises and leisure facilities and green spaces – on the edge of Newquay. There is an emphasis on local labour, materials and procurement.

“How society chooses to house people is every bit as important as how it chooses to feed people,” says Tim Gray, estate surveyor and chief of operations “If you can get those two things right, you will be happier, healthier and better able to engage socially. the ambition is to build community and engender civic pride, to live so that you can meet your daily needs conveniently on foot, not to differentiate between homes of different tenures, and to be connected socially with the adjacent settlements — this should provide good foundations for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative.”

Aslet describes a number of features:

  • a core commitment to spend the money in Cornwall, using local labour and materials and a pattern book with typical Cornish vernacular details, e.g. roofs are made from Cornish slate from a nearby quarry
  • The plans include setting up a town farm in some listed buildings to provide food for residents of the development.
  • There will be mixed-use neighbourhoods, in which the car is subservient to the pedestrian.
  • There will be a community orchard, allotments and ‘edible gardens’.
  • Low-cost rented homes are scattered among the more expensive owner-occupied ones 30% of the housing is affordable.

The area has been given a new lease of life. The quarry provides jobs, and so do the builders responsible for the work — all firms are from the southwest, whose work not only requires local labour, but also helps to establish local supply chains. They form what Gray calls a “consortium” a method that ensures the architecture is practical and appropriate for the local market.

Newquay is poor and homes are particularly needed by young people. Judging from conversations with a number of people in their twenties and thirties and young families met in the area, they like the designs, the edible gardens (herbs and fruit bushes are planted next to houses), espaliered pear trees and bee bricks (bricks with holes laid into the eaves of houses to welcome threatened bee populations), they’re all part of the philosophy — as well as local style, local materials and local employment . . . local food.

This is symbolised by the community orchard. seven acres of land that has been turned into allotments. “Trespassers will be composted”, reads one of the signs. Orchard and allotments are visible signs of the local food web that is being encouraged. They’re also somewhere that people from the new housing can meet long-time Newquay residents.

As Tim Gray said, this should provide a good foundation for deciding how the nation should build homes in the future. There really is an alternative: Aslet sees it as the beginning of a movement that made Britain better to live in.

 

 

 

f

International Alliance for Localization: Local Futures

In the Times, Ed Conway, economics editor of Sky News, describes problems arising from the complexity of globalisation, ‘the hallmark of 21st-century life’ and the International Alliance for Localization records examples of new modes of development and progress. He concludes: “Globalisation, once a means of boosting everyone’s income, has instead evolved into an excellent vehicle to help the rich get richer”.

The International Alliance for Localization sees that the building of more resilient economies will require a rethinking of the financial system, and its Planet Local series has been turning the spotlight on some inspiring examples of ethical banking:

* In Maine, USA, a local resident with money to invest  is providing nearby small farmers with loans whose interest is paid exclusively in the form of farm products.

* Brazil’s Banco Palmas, governed and managed by residents of the impoverished Palmeiras neighborhood in the city of Fortaleza, has issued a local currency, dramatically shifted spending patterns to keep money circulating locally, and extended basic financial services to people shut out of the mainstream banking system.

* In Croatia, the democratically-owned Ebanka functions as a non-profit bank, in stark contrast to most financial institutions worldwide. Their loans are given without interest, and every member has an equal voice when it comes to voting on big decisions, regardless of the value of their deposit.?

Visit IAL’s growing library of localization initiatives

 LWM is a member of IAL, a cross-cultural network of thinkers, activists and NGOs from 58 different countries.