By Andrew Holt
Think-tank ResPublica today launched its latest Report, To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy co-authored by its director, Phillip Blond, and Development Trusts association director, Steve Wyler, in association with NESTA.
The publication highlights 10 simple strategies for enabling individuals and community groups to join together to purchase under-performing assets the Government plans to sell off and transform these into revitalised, community-owned enterprises.
To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy follows on from two of ResPublica's earlier publications, The Ownership State and The Venture Society, which highlight how democratising access to assets will help redress the inequality that currently characterises the UK.
At the launch, Greg Clark MP, minister for decentralisation, praised: “ResPublica's phenomenal productivity and influence on the thinking of the new Government”.
He went on to note that being able to purchase and manage assets has the same beneficial effects for communities in terms of confidence and capability building as it does in the personal sphere for private individuals.
He added that the upcoming Localism Bill would put flesh on the bones of the Report's recommendations by enshrining communities' 'right to know' about monies currently being disbursed by local authorities on managing community assets.
This expansion of consumer rights in the private sector to community groups would, he went on to say, will help the latter bid successfully to run these assets themselves, dismantling in the process entrenched local authority monopolies.
Steve Wyler, joint author of the report, and director of the Development Trusts Association, cited examples from around the country of buildings and land being successfully taken into community ownership; he described this as a nationwide "entrepreneurial movement".
He added by way of historical context that this local self-determination movement has roots stretching back to Thomas Spence’s vision for localism penned in the 1790s and Chartist Fergus O’Connor’s creation of a National Land Bank to fund dwellings in five model villages for the urban poor fifty years later.
Phillip Blond noted the crucial role of community rights in reversing the current massive inequalities in asset distribution in the UK, whereby the bottom 25% of the population owns just 1% of the total wealth and, in terms of liquid capital, the bottom 50% owns just 1%.
He went on to say that enabling communities to bid for, buy and run local enterprises was one of three core strategies aimed at breaking open markets, the other two being Pathways to Work, which would enable local people on benefits to work in local enterprises and keep more of the money they earn, and the extension to community social enterprises of opportunities to bid for public sector contracts, the majority of which currently go to monopoly private sector providers at regional and national level.
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