Monday, 13 December 2010


The localism bill is published today. A landmark piece of legislation in two ways. First it gives more power to local Councils to determine policy and practice in line with local wishes not central direction, and second, it gives more power to local communities.

This measure is long overdue and welcome. It provides huge opportunities for our third sector; for charities, for social enterprises and community groups. It could form the basis for productive new partnerships between Councils and the third sector. It will lead to more innovative ways of delivering services through the third sector.

But all this takes place against a background of the most savage cuts in Council grants. So as well as opportunity there is danger as many of my ACEVO members have already found.

I remember one local Council CEO saying that of course they will cut grants to the local voluntary sector as they can get more volunteers and fund raise!

My message to members is not to wait for Councils to impose cuts on them following today's grant announcements, but to get into the Town Hall to discuss how we can deliver more citizen focused services and to see how the new powers of community ownership can be implemented.

But let us also beware Greeks bearing gifts! I welcome the new powers for community ownership of assets. But this can be a trap. I suspect there are some Councils who, facing both a budget cut and a cut in capital allocation, will think this a great chance to offload all those local libraries, youth centres and sports halls with leaky roofs onto a local community that then spends years fundraising for repairs.

Assets ownership can be very empowering for third sector organisations. But they can also be a burden and a problem. A library in community ownership sounds appealing. But once owned they have to be maintained; a financial burden for future years. And potentially drives organisations off mission. So, for example, instead of thinking of ways to raise standards of literacy in the local community through outreach or mentoring the mission becomes getting people to use the library building. Is that youth centre the best way to engage local youth?

So we need to be savvy. If the Council has not been able to develop a sustainable business model for running assets we need to be crystal clear our business model will do so. Owning a building sounds great but is not always a financially sound proposition. So beware the romanticism of community ownership and make sure the finances work. Time for a CEO to keep a strong grip on business planning!

No comments: