An overview of relevant announcements and updates for our members:
- First 21 projects awarded support from the Community Ownership Fund announced
- First 105 projects awarded support from the Levelling Up Fund announced
- No update provided on the UK Community Renewal Fund (the pre-cursor to the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF), the replacement programme for EU funding)
- The UK SPF will only reach EU levels of funding by the end of the Spending Review period, not from next year as originally promised also no further detail was provided about the delivery of the fund
- Business Rates: 50% relief for Retail, Hospitality and Leisure sectors in 2022-23, £110,000 cash cap
Whilst yesterday’s budget contained so much to unpick, there is no place better to start than to congratulate 6 Plunkett Foundation members and a further 15 other community business projects, confirmed as the first awards from the Government’s Community Ownership Fund (COF) which launched in the spring. For these 21 projects the funding offered will significantly improve their chances of realising community-ownership of local assets that offer so much benefit to their local area. Each applicant will now have 6 months within which to spend the money and Plunkett, along with our partners will do all we can to help these groups realise that opportunity.
What is now critical, is that those groups with unsuccessful COF applications are afforded comprehensive and clear guidance on why their application was not approved at this stage, and further more whether they would be considered eligible to apply for future rounds of the fund. It is hard for any project to receive a rejection notice from a funder, particularly given that it will have been a core of volunteers working hard on their application in what was a relative short timeframe for the Community Ownership Fund.
In our reflections we wanted to highlight one of the groups supported by the COF, although a case could be made to write reams about them all. We were so pleased to see the Rising Sun in Woodcroft in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire receive an award in the first round because this is a project a long time in the making. The pub closed 10 years ago and was purchased by a developer who sought to create housing on the site. The community registered the pub as an Asset of Community Value (ACV), which led to an initial rejection of planning applications to convert the building. Around 3 years ago, the pub was put back on the market and the community offered 20% over the valuation price to purchase the pub – it was rejected. With a clear mandate of support from local residents the local authority agreed to serve a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on the pub, which the developers objected to. The Covid crisis last year then led the council to withdraw the CPO and it was not reinstated. In May this year the developer finally agreed to sell to the group and they have gone on to raise over £350k in community shares towards their project. The COF funding will now support them to realise their ambition and also make good a pub that has been vacant for 10 years and suffered significant damage from thieves and vandals.
The reason we wanted to feature this project today is because it highlights the relevance of two specific asks that we included in our pre-Spending Review Submission – these were not monetary asks, but asks related to improving the delivery of existing Government funds. Firstly we, along with many other partners are calling for a Community Right to Buy (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – recognising this exists in Scotland) to be afforded to those assets with an ACV status. The current Right to Bid (in England – there are no rights at all in Wales or Northern Ireland) just does not go far enough in terms of protecting local assets such as pubs, although it remains a commonly utilised piece of legislation for many community pub projects. In our submission we also asked for an insurance scheme for local authorities to give them greater support and backing to serve CPOs, where there is demonstrable community backing and evidence of a sustainable business being run for local benefit longer term. The reason we highlighted both of these asks in our submission is because groups like the Rising Sun should be afforded the opportunity to realise their community ownership ambitions far quicker. 10 years has been lost by the community of Woodcroft and the funding required to make this project a reality could have been significantly less, if the community were empowered to buy it much sooner. We hope that with the backdrop of the Levelling Up agenda and also the fact COF will operate for the next 4 years that now is the time that changes to legislation can be made, so that more communities (right across the UK) can realise the opportunities community-ownership can create for their local area in terms of employment, wellbeing action and local inclusion.
It was frustrating to not hear more about the EU replacement funding in yesterday’s announcements, as this is another source of funding that could potentially benefit community businesses projects. Where as the Community Ownership Fund is very much a fund to support the protection of assets, funds such as the UK Shared Prosperity Fund could be more proactive in creating new business opportunities. That is if there is genuine local accountability in the delivery of these funds, with local communities empowered to support the decisions made. In our submission to treasury we reiterated our commitment to the Communities in Charge campaign, being led by our partners Locality and we genuinely hope that these calls are being listened to. The successful delivery of previous EU funds, through programmes such as LEADER and the Community-Led Local Development (CLLD) strand of the existing European Structural and Investment Fund (ESIF) offers much for Government to learn from and show ways that community led funds can be transformative at a local level. Community-owned businesses have been supported previously by EU funding and we will continue to make case, alongside partners of the value of these businesses as we await to hear more about the UK SPF in due course.
We know that community businesses can play a key role in the Levelling Up agenda; they are inclusive, innovative and impactful places and spaces for their community and surrounding areas. As we move on from yesterday’s announcements Plunkett will continue to advocate on behalf of the predominantly rural network of businesses we represent and ensure that their role and the opportunities they create are recognised in the impending White Paper, which we understand will be released sometime in the winter.
If you want to discuss anything about our Spending Review submission, or Plunkett’s wider policy and advocacy work please contact Chris Cowcher, Head of Policy via email@example.com or you can follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisCowcher.