Trust communities to lead the way

“A Right to Buy,

not just a Right to Try”

With a UK General Election confirmed for Thursday 4 July 2024, Plunkett UK will be working with a wide range of partners to champion the needs of our membership and promote the transformative impact that community ownership can bring to local areas across the country.

We will engage with all political parties, across the UK, to advocate for better legislation, policy and funding to grow the sector, and enable more people to benefit from community-owned businesses, particularly in areas where there is currently lower awareness of the model. Click here to read our review of what the party manifestos mean for our sector.

As a charity working predominantly in rural areas we believe that by promoting the advantages of democratic ownership of land and assets, we want to mobilise the community business movement to address equity, diversity and inclusion in the countryside.

Your donation will help us to complete research which evidences the impact of the growing community ownership movement.

Our priorities for a future Government are:

Support for all developing community ownership projects

Each year, approximately 500 new community groups contact Plunkett UK looking for advice and support to progress a community ownership project. This level of interest leads to around 40 new businesses reaching trading point annually.

To support a growing sector, we are calling for:

To enable more communities to bring local assets into community ownership, Plunkett is calling for a Community Right to Buy to be enacted in all four UK nations. We believe that where residents have identified an asset of value to their community, such as a shop, pub, sports facility or green space, they should have a right of first refusal to purchase the asset, if it becomes available for sale.

The asset should be available to the community at a fair price that has been set by an independent valuation.

We are supporting the following campaigns, which also include a call for a Community Right to Buy

Local groups exploring community ownership of assets, and trading businesses must be able to access a range of financial support to achieve their ambition.

The amount of money required to purchase assets, or set-up a business and take on the lease of a premise will vary hugely across the UK. Therefore, it is critical that the finance on offer to groups looking to establish community-owned businesses is varied and flexible to meet the bespoke needs of different groups.

Here are the priorities we believe a future Government should be supporting:

1. Back Community Shares, a patient form of finance widely utilised by the community ownership movement, to raise capital and build an engaged membership and supporter base.

An opportunity to grow this form of social investment, would be to expand the Cooperatives UK-led / Power to Change supported Booster Fund in England and offer groups an opportunity to access matched equity investments.

To grow the sector in all nations, equivalent ‘Booster’ funds should be established in the other UK nations, too.

2. Commit to an extended and expanded UK Community Ownership Fund, providing access to grant finance for groups seeking to buy assets that have a local value to the community.

3. Support the Community Enterprise Growth Plan, which provides a blueprint to utilise Dormant Assets funding to grow community businesses and enterprises with a social purpose in underserved places and communities

4. Enable rural communities with ‘hidden’ needs and deprivation, to access the forthcoming Community Wealth Fund.

5. Make it easier for the community business sector to access finance via ‘high street’ banks, with clearer guidance for operators in respect of supporting community benefit societies to open bank accounts and access business-related financial products.

Plunkett’s records show that when a group has access to advice and support, the chances of their community ownership project succeeding increases from 1 in 10 projects to around 1 in 3 projects. It is vital that as the interest in this form of business grows that there continues to be access to FREE advice and support.

A future Government must invest in and support the key contribution of the voluntary and community sector so that organisations, such as Plunkett, are resourced, have the capacity and are able to continue supporting sector growth.

The role of local councils across the nation is critical in terms of promoting and supporting sector growth in their area. There are fantastic examples of local government engaging with community-owned businesses, and this practice needs to be common practice across the national network.

Recognising the pressures on public finances, Plunkett supports the calls of the Rural Services Network for fairer funding and multi-year settlements for councils, to enable to them to be more proactive in supporting our sector.

We also believe that are 3 ‘quick wins’ which would be effective now:

1. Community-owned businesses and social enterprises should be more clearly recognised in Local Plans and Economic Strategies. This would promote the opportunities presented through utilising the business model in the context of new housing developments, as well as in relation to the future of local High Streets.

2. Building on and replicating the Keep it in the Community (KIITC) platform Plunkett manages in England, could improve the process of registering assets of community value in different areas across the country. KIITC aims to connect an awareness of the community ownership model and the practical steps a group needs to take, alongside the registration process so that residents feel better prepared to act on a community buyout / purchase project should the opportunity arise.

3. Training and awareness for locally elected members and council staff in relation to the community-owned business model and the practical steps to exploring this form of business. This would help local residents to connect up with the advice and support available to explore community ownership projects in their area.

Support existing community-owned businesses

The long-term survival rate for businesses supported by Plunkett UK is 92%. The model has proven to be a remarkably resilient form of business in the face of significant challenges – not least in recent times, with the pandemic and the rising cost of living. To help support the current network, these businesses require access to investment, advice and a positive operating environment in which they can flourish.

To support community-owned businesses nationwide we are calling for:

Plunkett’s “Community Ownership: A Better form of Business” report shows that as many as 85% of community-owned businesses have already or are actively considering the installation of energy saving measures. Their motivation to do so is a combination of reducing their running costs, as well as a desire to take positive action on the environment. For many businesses, however, particularly those in rural areas, the costs of installing ESMs is prohibitive and often related to them operating from historic and inefficient buildings.

Whilst community-owned businesses have charitable purposes and outcomes because they trade (for community benefit) they are typically registered as Community Benefit Societies, regulated by the FCA and are often excluded from the benefits that charities are afforded.

Plunkett is calling for Community Benefit Societies to be eligible for the VAT relief, currently afforded to charities for ESMs.

The diverse range of business types within the community ownership movement means that there is no one single solution that would suit all forms of business when it comes to taxation and business rates.

However, to benefit those which are operating from fixed assets and premises we would ask a future Government to reduce the overall burden of business rates on physical businesses and reform the system for those operating with an online only presence.

As stated by our partners, the Association of Convenience Stores, improvements to the tax system could lead to operators being encouraged to invest in and deliver ‘other’ essential community services such as free-to-use cash machines. Increased access to cash in rural areas could help to address some of the challenges business face in respect of increase bank charges related to card payments.

Trading community-owned businesses must be able to access to financial support to expand their operations, invest in their premises and people, and to grow their impact.

The amount of money required will vary hugely across the UK. Therefore, it is critical that the finance on offer to businesses is varied and flexible to meet their individual and bespoke needs.

We believe a future Government should:

1.Back Community Shares, a patient form of finance widely utilised by the community ownership movement, to raise capital and a supporter base to grow operational reach and impact.

2. Support the Community Enterprise Growth Plan, which provides a blueprint to utilise Dormant Assets funding to grow community businesses and enterprises with a social purpose in underserved places and communities

3. Make it easier for the community business sector to access finance via ‘high street’ banks, with clearer guidance for operators in respect of supporting community benefit societies to access business-related financial products.

4. Commit to an extension of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (and in England the Rural England Prosperity Fund) with guidance to provide grant investment to support small business growth and diversification.

Supporting the rural sector

Rural businesses, which account the majority of groups that Plunkett works with, face a number of unique challenges and often higher operating costs. These needs must be reflected in respect of future government policy.

As members of the Rural Coalition we call on the Government to implement a comprehensive, cross-departmental Rural Strategy which would strengthen the rural proofing of policy and funding decisions.

Join the movement: Become a member today

As our membership grows, so does the profile of our movement. If you are not already a Plunkett member, please sign up today. You can become an individual supporter for just £20 a year and show your support for this growing sector.

If you are interested in learning more about our research and policy work, please do get in touch with Chris via chris.cowcher@plunkett.co.uk or make a donation to support our research activity.

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