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.

 

 

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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.

 

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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”.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

A regenerative ‘Circular Economy’ includes more localisation of economic activity

The Circular Economy is advocated to replace and address the social and environmental damage done by the current ‘Linear Economy’ with its ‘take, make, dispose’ model, depleting finite reserves to create products that end up in landfill or in incinerators. It achieves its objectives through long-lasting design, maintenance, repair, reuse, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and recycling – reducing waste to zero. Some examples of such practice are presented on the website of the World Economic Forum.

The idea of circular material flows as a model for the economy was presented in 1966 by an economist, Professor Kenneth Boulding, in his paper The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth.

In the 70s, Walter R. Stahel, architect, economist and a founding father of industrial sustainability, worked on developing a “closed loop” approach to production processes. He co-founded the Product-Life Institute in Geneva; its main goals are product-life extension, long-life goods, reconditioning activities, waste prevention, advocating “more localisation of economic activity”.

With Genevieve Reday, he outlined the vision of an economy in loops (or circular economy) and its impact on job creation, economic competitiveness, resource savings, and waste prevention. Their Hannah Reekman research report to the European Commission, “The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy” (1976) was published in 1982 as a book (left) Jobs for Tomorrow: The Potential for Substituting Manpower for Energy. 

The Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) a charity, which receives funding from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Northern Ireland Executive, Zero Waste Scotland, the Welsh Government and the European Union was set up in 2000.  From its headquarters in Banbury it works with businesses, individuals and communities to achieve a circular economy through helping them to reduce waste, develop sustainable products and use resources in an efficient way. Below: the header for its March report:

On 17 December 2012, the European Commission published a document entitled Manifesto for a Resource Efficient Europe. This manifesto clearly stated that “In a world with growing pressures on resources and the environment, the EU has no choice but to go for the transition to a resource-efficient and ultimately regenerative circular economy” and outlined potential pathways to a circular economy, in innovation and investment, regulation, tackling harmful subsidies, increasing opportunities for new business models, and setting clear targets.

‘Resource’, the first large scale event for the circular economy was held In March 2014 and Walter Stahel joined the programme of 100 business leaders and experts. Many major stakeholders and visitors from across the globe attended. An annual large scale event is now increasing the uptake of circular economy principles. Circular Economy Examples may be seen on the website of the World Economic Forum and there are indications that some multinational companies may be cherry-picking related ideas which cut costs and increase profits.

Some will have reservations about the involvement of McKinsey & Company, which has issued two reports on the subject – one commissioned by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

Peter Day explored the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and its associates on radio (In Business) on 23rd April 2015 – listen again here.

Ellen established this independent charity in 2010 and eloquently outlines the economic opportunity of a circular economy, giving the concept wide exposure and appeal.

 

 

 

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Localising moves in four Eastern European countries

The Romanian parliament has passed a law requiring large retailers with a turnover of 2m euros to allocate a minimum of 51% of existing space for fresh produce to products sourced locally, from a short supply chain.

The law, which came into effect last month, initially stated that products should come only from Romania but had to be amended after Brussels warned that this would be a breach of EU regulation. Under the amended text, Bulgarian and Hungarian products would also qualify as part of a short supply chain.

roamiancoop

French retailer Carrefour has founded an agricultural co-operative in a Romanian village to bring local fresh produce to its shelves. It includes 80 families of producers who own 60 hectares of agricultural land. Carrefour will source 5,000 tonnes of fruit and veg from the local co-op in the village of Varasti.

Through the co-op, which officially launches this month, farmers will be able to scale up production and have a single collection centre. The partnership with Carrefour guarantees them a production plan and price, and means they will receive fast payments for their products.

RetailEU described the legislation as protectionist but added that Romania is not the only country concerned about its local manufacturers; Slovakia  wanted to force supermarkets to inform customers at the entrance of the number of Slovakian products in the store and recently the Polish government introduced a “supermarket tax” on all major (and therefore foreign) retailers, as Hungary has already done.

 

 

 

Storing food in a localised low carbon system

 

Traditional methods of storing food include preservation of food in ice brought from the mountains and kept inside caves & icehouses, low-tech bottling and jam-making, drying of meat & fruit and underground storage at lower temperatures in hot countries.

On Monday Mark Shapiro, a Californian reader, sent this link to information about another method: fermentation, a localised probiotic food system which has significant economic, social and health benefits.

aaronAaron Vansintjan reflects that it’s easy to get the impression that we live in a world of scarcity, where there just isn’t enough food to go around, and food production all around the world is limited by technological backwardness.

On the other hand, there is an increasing problem of food waste in Western food systems. Though a range of expensive and complex technologies protects our fresh food supply against spoilage, a large proportion food produced is thrown away.

Aaron has a background in Natural Resource Sciences and is currently conducting research into food related issues, including marginalized communities access to food. He has observed the Vietnamese practice of fermentation, embedded within people’s livelihoods, local agricultural systems, food safety practices, forming a fundamental component of a sustainable food system. With the rise of the local food and food sovereignty movements, many are realising that we need food systems that could support everyone: from small farmers to low-income families. In a localised food system food needs to be stored for long periods. Fermentation makes that possible. He comments:

“Unlike many high-tech proposals like ‘smart’ food recycling apps, highly efficient logistics systems, and food packaging innovations, fermentation is both low-tech and democratic—anyone can do it. It has low energy inputs, brings people together, is hygienic and healthy, and can reduce food waste”.

vietnam market

In Vietnam there are wholesale night markets, mobile street vendors, covered markets, food baskets organized by office workers with family connections to farmers, guerilla gardening on vacant land. Food is grown, sold, and bought all over the place, and supermarkets are just a small (albeit growing) node in the complex latticework. Most people still get food at the market, but many also source their food from family connections. With this easy access to wholesale produce, many can turn to small-scale fermentation to complement their income—or spend less on food at the market.

The article goes into great detail about various recipes for fermented food Some call for water and salt: “At just a 1:50 ratio (2%) of salt to food, an environment is created in which bad bacteria doesn’t flourish and good bacteria is encouraged”.

the most popular fermented dishes in Vietnam

From left to right: Nem chua (fermented sausage), Thịt lợn chua (sour fermented pork), Com me (sour rice with fermented paste), Dưa chua/dưa muối (fermented fruit or vegetable), Mắm chua (sour fermented fish paste),Tôm chua (fermented shrimp), Nước mắm or Nước chấm (fish sauce),Tương (fermented soybean paste)

Vietnamese street vendors know the rules of hygiene and food safety, and, because they have to be careful with their money, they know exactly what kinds of food will go bad, and what kinds of food can be preserved. In doing so, they practice a food culture that has been passed down through generations—to a time before fridges, a global food system powered by container shipping, factory trawlers, and produce delivered to far-off markets by airplane.

Because of its low investment costs, fermentation lends itself well to supporting small businesses, allowing them to take advantage of seasonality while practicing a time-tested low-tech method of food preparation. Fermented food doesn’t depend on high inputs of fossil fuel energy to preserve food, high waste, and high-tech. It has to be produced locally: transporting it will risk explosions on the high seas

Aaron ends; “With increasing concern over the health side effects of common chemicals such as BPA (Bisphenol A, a  polycarbonate plastic) found in almost all cans and pasta sauce jars, people are looking to safer kinds of preservation, which aren’t killing them and their families slowly. In a world facing climate change, we need a low-impact food system, and fast”.

(Ed: some links and pictures added)

 

 

Doncaster leads on local sourcing

As local sourcing where appropriate is central to relocalising and strengthening regional economies, many will welcome news of a pledge made by Doncaster’s Mayor Ros Jones to ‘buy local’.

mayor ros jonesBusiness Desk reports that when Ros Jones became Mayor in 2013, the council spent more money with firms located outside of borough, but now the vast majority of work goes to local firms, supporting the local economy and helping to stimulate jobs and growth.

Mayor Jones said: “I was determined Doncaster firms could bid for suitable contracts and by understanding what is involved in the procurement process have every opportunity to win work. We have put on workshops, organised events and provided support for business owners so they understand the rules, can find available contracts and know how to prepare their tender bids. This work is certainly paying off with amount of work being won by local firms increasing by a staggering 34% in the last four years”.

Doncaster Council’s procurement team has trained about 130 businesses on how to do business with the public sector and procurement rules have been changed to include local suppliers.

Working with the Business Doncaster team, supplier engagement events have enabled firms to meet public sector buyers, while other public sector agencies in Doncaster have also been encouraged to ‘buy local’.

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doncaster chamber logo

Dan Fell, the innovative chief executive of Doncaster Chamber, added: “Doncaster Chamber believes that it is important for local organisations in the public and private sectors to do business with each other to generate new supply chains and keep work local where possible.  For many years the Chamber has encouraged partners to ‘Buy Doncaster’ and, as such, is delighted that Doncaster Council has such a high percentage of its good and services locally.”

Because of Mayor Ros Jones’ pledge to ‘buy local’ – and despite reduced council budgets – the amount of work awarded to firms in the borough increased by over £27m since 2013/14 and now represents 68% of all council spend. In  2016/17, Doncaster based companies are projected to win over £108m of council work.

birmingham pound header

Endnote: see news of the Birmingham Pound which encourages sourcing of local goods and services: https://brumpound.wordpress.com/