Community Rights - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

6  Future community engagement


57. Awareness of the four Community Rights has, according to Locality, "increased rapidly" since they were introduced. But it said we were "a long way from a 'tipping point' in terms of widespread public understanding".[133] In pursuit of that tipping point DCLG told us it was "committed" to the community rights agenda and had agreed a £15.2 million package of support for 2015-16 based on what it had learned over the last two years.[134] In addition to the changes we have suggested, we expect that this Government and in all likelihood any Government after the General Election will promote the Community Rights, particularly if they are modified. We therefore considered how public awareness and use of the basket of Community Rights might be improved. We examined three suggestions: focus on the issues people face; help member organisations to help their members; and build community group capacity, particularly in deprived communities.


58. Several witnesses suggested that one way of increasing uptake of Community Rights would be, paradoxically, to shift publicity from the Rights themselves to the issues people are dealing with. For example, the Plunkett Foundation said "Communication needs to be focused on the problems that these powers solve (save your shop, save your pub), not the process that Government would like to see communities use."[135] Civic Voice concurred, saying the focus needed to be on helping people envisage the future of their area, "using the rights and other processes available to them".[136] This approach had already been adopted by the Social Investment Business, which explained how it had promoted its grants as Right to Bid and Right to Challenge funds, but then changed the programme name to 'Community Assets and Services'. It said this focus had been more effective as it highlighted that the rights were just one mechanism for change: "the emphasis is correctly on the goal not the rights themselves".[137]


59. The second suggestion, which several witnesses made, was for more local support from community umbrella organisations. Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE) said that "there needs to be a demonstrable ability of an organisation to 'reach' all communities in request of advice" and we "can demonstrate reach into 50,000 grassroots organisations. [...] Online guidance with small amounts of grant funding and no ongoing face to face support is not enough."[138] We heard calls for "non-technical workshops", and in oral evidence NAVCA said: "Getting people in a room and getting some real learning, getting some honesty about what has happened rather than glossy case studies that make things look easy, really does help."[139] DCLG acknowledged that information about the Rights could be conveyed more powerfully by "trusted voices,"[140] and in November 2014 it awarded £50,000 to the Plunkett Foundation to extend its support to include specialist advice, study visits, mentoring and peer-to-peer learning.[141]


60. Third, witnesses considered it important to invest in local people's capabilities, particularly in deprived areas. The Confederation of Co-operative Housing said,

    The [community rights] programme has placed far too high an expectation on exceptional individuals in communities with existing community skills and commitment. Experience has shown us that for most people such skills need to be nurtured over time.[142]

Civic Voice said the rights needed to be promoted locally, with more intensive work in areas of deprivation to find people who could become leaders. It added this could be done cost-effectively by voluntary organisations.[143] DCLG has said that, although its new programme would continue to provide support on a demand-led basis, it would also feature "more targeted interventions where use or take-up of the rights is lower".[144]

61. The Community Development Foundation suggested one way in which group capacity could be improved: "Offer support to community groups to take on manageable tasks in their community, which will ultimately build their confidence, skills and local networks." It said this approach could enable them eventually to take up an existing Community Right.[145] The New Economics Foundation, working with DCLG, recently conducted workshops in Birkenhead and London with 50 members of the public, policy makers, community organisers and local authority staff. It suggested:

·  creating further community rights, or promoting alternative mechanisms for community influence […] if the emphasis is more on helping people participate in the decisions that affect them, and less on taking over assets and services; and

·  additional opportunities for influence should be created (or promoted if they already exist) which are less complex, with lower barriers to participation and with the possibility of quick wins.[146]

DCLG has said it is "trialling new initiatives—for example, Community Economic Development [...] to address [...] low skills and worklessness".[147]

62. The Government has more than two years' worth of experience to draw on as it plans the next phase of the Community Rights programme. Witnesses to our inquiry, with first-hand experience of the Rights, have provided a range of proposals on how to build on these first steps and improve people's awareness and use of the powers. Recent announcements from the Government, for example on funding member organisations and trialling new means of community engagement, suggest it is moving in the same direction. We urge it to continue on this path. We recommend the Government seek in 2015 to improve public awareness and use of the Community Rights in the following ways. First, the focus should be on what communities want to achieve, not a prescribed route they have to take. Second, there should be further investment, similar to that which the Government has provided to the Plunkett Foundation, to enable effective community group member organisations to support local people. Third, there should be investment in community group capacity, particularly in deprived areas, with new forms of community engagement that eventually should lead to communities being able to use the existing Rights themselves.

Improved information

63. In its submission to our inquiry DCLG said it was "very encouraged with progress to date".[148] But it also noted that there "is no formal reporting mechanism to establish use of the rights and our understanding of their uptake is based on ad hoc and informal information gathering".[149] Locality suggested take-up and use of the rights could be furthered through "greatly improved data transparency about publicly owned assets, public services and spend".[150]

64. We also asked Tony Armstrong, from Locality, whether official figures could give us a better view of people's take-up of the Rights. He said data from local authorities were the "missing link": Locality could not aggregate that data because local authorities were not required to report them.[151] Research by one of our members, Simon Danczuk MP, has brought to light some revealing information about the use of the Community Right to Bid. Freedom of information requests were recently lodged with 354 local authorities, 265 of which were able to provide information. From these the following points emerged:

·  68 local authority areas have seen at least one community group bid for an Asset of Community Value;

·  123 groups in all have shown an intention to bid;

·  11 groups have been successful;

·  60 have been unsuccessful;

·  27 groups still have bids pending; and

·  there are 25 groups for whom the outcome of their bid is unknown.

This data shows an almost 50% failure rate among those groups bidding for ACVs. This in itself is significant but it prompts more questions about which groups have failed, where they are and what caused the failure. With better data the Government, or its contracted advice providers, could better plan their interventions.

65. We see a good case for improved information on the take-up of Community Rights. If the Government undertakes a strategic data-gathering exercise on how Community Rights that have seen some take-up are being used, it should be able to target its resources at certain groups and areas and start to understand the reasons why some groups have succeeded and others have not. We recommend that the Government, as part of its review of the Community Rights later in 2015, propose that a basic level of data be retained by all local authorities on take-up of Community Rights. The Government should then periodically analyse that data, first, to understand which groups are using the Rights, why those that do ultimately succeed or fail, and how the Rights might be reformed; and, second, to target resources more effectively, in order to improve take-up of the Community Rights.

133   Locality (CRS 040), para 3.1 Back

134   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 6  Back

135   The Plunkett Foundation (CRS 011), para 24 Back

136   Civic Voice (CRS 026), para 28 Back

137   Social Investment Business (CRS 041), para 2  Back

138   Action with Communities in Rural England (CRS 017), paras 4.2, 5.3 Back

139   Civic Voice (CRS 026), para 28 [non-technical workshops], Q128 Back

140   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 2  Back

141   "Package of support for the great British pub", Department for Communities and Local Government press release, 11 November 2014  Back

142   Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CRS 007), para 2.3 Back

143   Qq36-37 Back

144   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 6 Back

145   Community Development Foundation (CRS 015), para 5(iv)  Back

146   New Economics Foundation (CRS 043), p 8  Back

147   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 6 Back

148   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 5  Back

149   Department for Communities and Local Government (CRS 039), p 2  Back

150   Locality (CRS 040), para 5.1. See also Social Investment Business (CRS 041), para 5 Back

151   Q204 Back

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Prepared 3 February 2015