Earlier this year, when we were completing our research in to why the community-owned pub business model had not been adopted in many urban or built up areas (to date), one the barriers a research participant raised was insufficient legislation to support a community buyout. Their exact words were “We need a Right to buy (local assets) and not just a Right to Try”. This a sentiment that Plunkett Foundation fully supports and it is not only relevant for urban community-owned pub projects, it is a fundamental flaw that is holding back potential within the wider community business sector.
Last week, we launched our new 5 year strategy and stated our ambition to grow the community-owned business sector by 20% by 2026. Whilst our charitable objects direct our focus on rural areas, we are seeking legislative change that would benefit community-ownership projects throughout all settlement types UK-wide. Ahead of the political party conference season, we are setting out one of our policy priorities and calling on the UK Government and Devolved Administrations to enact a consistent Community Right to Buy in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Creating Innovative, Inclusive, Impactful Spaces
The positive social, economic and environmental impact of community-owned businesses becomes clearer with each new business opening. They are creating local employment, training and volunteering opportunities. They provide social meetings spaces and hosting a range of key services for community benefit. They contribute to the local economy through trade and supplier relationships. They reduce the need to travel, protect access to local green space and offer access to goods and services with a lower carbon footprint. We believe that local residents should be empowered to save, protect and support local assets; such as pubs, shops, post offices, libraries, woodlands, farms, fisheries, breweries and many more facilities, to create innovative, inclusive and impactful spaces the length and breadth of the country.
Currently only 1 in 8 projects that contact Plunkett Foundation for advice and support go on to establish a community-owned business in the long term. Whilst there are many barriers that groups will face, we believe that a Community Right to Buy would improve this conversion rate significantly.
What’s the current picture across all four nations?
Scotland, is further ahead than other parts of the UK in that a Community Right to Buy already exists. However, awareness of its existence is low, the legislation is rarely utilised and feedback we have received suggests the registration process is complex and arduous for volunteers to navigate. The Scottish legislation therefore provides a starting point to learn from and build on. In England, the existing Community Rights are used but no Community Right to Buy exists meaning that community groups are beholden to a willing seller. In Wales and Northern Ireland there are no such rights at this time.
The UK Government, in their Levelling Up White Paper set out a desire to create a Strategy for Community Spaces and Relationships. The white paper strategy stated that “the UK Government will consider how the existing Community Asset Transfer and Asset of Community Value Schemes can be enhanced, and consult on options to go further to support community ownership.” We see this as the moment to push for change. We also know that there is support on the opposition benches too, with Shadow Levelling-Up Minister, Lisa Nandy MP announcing in a recent speech in Darlington, that the Labour Party would include a Community Right to Buy in their next manifesto.
Influencing work is already underway in Wales, with Wales Council for Voluntary Action convening a Community Ownership Group to push for Community Rights in Wales. Plunkett has also submitted written and oral evidence to a Welsh Parliamentary inquiry into Community Assets, representing the views of our members and existing community businesses in the country. In Northern Ireland more needs to be done, to support the work of the Development Trust NI who have long led the calls for Community Rights to be implemented.
Our new position paper sets out a framework for the conversation we want to see progressed in respect of a UK-wide Community Right to Buy. We hope that you will support our calls, work with us and help to shape our ongoing engagement and campaigning activity.