Community Asset Transfer – Milton Keynes Council

Posted on 2nd March, 2015

Summary

Milton Keynes Council is aiming to transfer 50 community assets including leisure facilities and libraries to locally run organisations, such as parish councils and residents’ groups, in order to shore up community empowerment, protect assets for future use and save more than £300,000 on maintenance costs. As a result, residents are already benefiting from improvements to their facilities, from repairs and refurbishment to investment in new uses. Community use of assets has increased by 8% in some areas.

The local challenge and national context

Milton Keynes was established in 1967 as an intended business and leisure hub for the region.  Today, it is the UK’s fastest growing place with a strong economy and an increasingly diverse population of 250,000.  Milton Keynes is fully parished. Its rural area accounts for about 66% of the borough by area and about 10% by population.

Milton Keynes Council owns around 700 community assets including leisure and community facilities, arts and heritage sites, libraries, nurseries, youth centres and other facilities.

Like many local authorities, the council is under significant financial pressure to find savings and efficiencies.  Some assets are in poor condition and, while valued by communities, their provision is not part of the council’s statutory duties.  A question mark hangs over the level of investment the council is able to make in their future.

At the same time, the council recognises that some community partners may be better placed to run local assets.  The Quirk Review (Making Assets Work, 2007) found that a careful increase in a community’s stake in an asset can bring a wide range of additional benefits for that community, for the organisation receiving the asset and for the local authority facilitating the transfer. The 2011 Localism Act aims to shift greater power into the hands of individuals and communities, stating this would make it “easier for them to get things done and achieve their ambitions for the place where they live.”

What is Community Asset Transfer?

While Milton Keynes Council has a healthy track record of working with community partners on the delivery of community facilities, the council recognised that it would need to identify a new approach to unlock the value of its assets for communities, as well as making savings itself.

The Community Asset Transfer (CAT) programme seeks to resolve the financial pressure on the council while preserving assets for continuing community benefit and empowering local people and partners to provide the right facilities for their local community.

Communities are able to take over the day to day running of assets as diverse as meeting places, car parks and sports grounds. Where possible (and where the value of the asset is under £2m) the freehold of the asset would transfer to the community. Some complex and significant facilities are instead offered on long term lease arrangements.

Key benefits of the CAT programme:

  • Assets can be delivered in a way that produces appropriate outcomes for residents and also delivers excellent money for the council.
  • It meets a demonstrable local community need and contributes to community empowerment.
  • Assets/value of the asset is protected and preserved for continuing community benefit.
  • The programme is a mutually beneficial, simple, proportionate and flexible process.
  • It is governed to ensure the applicant organisations are locally controlled, open to everyone, democratic and accountable. Applicants can prove their skills and experience, and long term sustainability through a business plan.

Working with communities on preparation for CAT

Milton Keynes Council wanted communities to be involved in CAT from the programme inception. In-depth consultation on the approach to the programme (with notice given to stakeholders such as parish councils, residents’ associations and user groups 12 weeks ahead of the consultation) and a five-strong pilot scheme to identify lessons to learn, as well as consultation on each asset helped the council better understand how the programme should flex to support applicants.

Each asset transfer was a clear and transparent two-step process which included assessment panels with Ward and Parish Councillors and a delegated Cabinet decision with a five day call-in period.  In addition, applicants must submit evidence that they have consulted users of the facility as part of their bid.

Some of the elements of CAT that evolved due to partnership working included:

  • Greater clarity in communications to dispel the myth that large commercial organisations could acquire local assets (the council’s preference was that partners should be locally run and controlled, non-profit distributing, inclusive and democratic organisations with a track record in running facilities for the community).
  • The inclusion of a pre-application checklist to give applicants the opportunity to submit a more robust bid.
  • Greater communication on the intended benefits for all and why the council chose this particular process.
  • Ensuring the application process was as flexible as possible to allow some applicants time to build capacity in order to create a better bid.

CAT programme timeframe

June-August 2011 Identification of vision. 700 council assets scoped. 40 identified for inclusion in CAT.
September 2011 Vision and budget approved by Finance.
January 2012 Approval to consult agreed by Cabinet.
January-April 2012 Public consultation on the council’s approach to community asset transfer, including 14 public meetings. 292 responses were received, which fed into the preparation of a CAT Toolkit. Simultaneously, a pilot of five asset transfers were run to test the validity of the draft approach and give ‘real world’ experience.
July 2012 CAT Toolkit, setting out approach, approved by Cabinet.
Jan 2012 First community asset transfer begins.

 

Community outcomes

The CAT programme is expected to run over 5 years. To date, thirteen of the 50 community assets identified to be part of the CAT programme have transferred to the community, with one more on target to be transferred by 31 March 2015. This means the programme is on track and has delivered £200,000 of the £335,000 savings to the council anticipated in total.

Assets have been transferred to a variety of local groups, mostly parish and town councils, or management committees comprised of local residents. Most express a desire for greater security and to ensure facilities can remain well used by the widest cross section of individuals and groups.

Two typical examples of how communities are already benefiting from the transfers:

Fishermead and Woolstone Sports Grounds

Fishermead Sports Ground was historically the site of the Fishermead Sports and Social Club. However, the clubhouse had been demolished some years previously and public access sports pitches were no longer available.  Nearby Woolstone Sports Ground also required investment in repairs and refurbishment.

Campbell Park Parish Council regularly received booking enquires about sports pitches in Fishermead as well as interest in facilities from a junior football team, and felt it could make the facility a working proposition.  It also had some strong locally-driven ideas to improve Woolstone.

In summer 2013, both assets were transferred to Campbell Park Parish Council for £1 each. As a result, residents are already witnessing and appreciating the benefits of their local facilities being upgraded.

The parish council has quickly addressed some woodland management issues in Woolstone which had caused community safety concerns. The car park has been made more inviting with additional bin provision and repairs to the hard standing. Benches that had served the sports ground for nearly 30 years were replaced. The parish will be consulting with residents on long term plans for the ground, with a sports wall, trim trail and exercise track being considered.

The plans for Fishermead are longer term, with a desire to reintroduce football to the ground in time for the 2015/16 football season after an absence of more than 10 years. External funding is being explored to invest in new changing rooms which will serve both junior and senior teams. In the meantime a regular landscape schedule has been introduced for the area, including grass cutting, litter picking and woodland management.

The parish council feels the transfer of the properties has been a positive move, with firm foundations now being built to secure the long term future of the sites.

Chair of Campbell Park Parish Council, Cllr John Goss said about the process: “Straightforward and transparent, and was concluded in a timely manner. The completion of the transfer will ensure the future of the site for both the current and future generations.”

Middleton Pool & Willen Road Sports Ground

These were transferred under CAT in March 2014.

These assets were taken on by Newport Pagnell Town Council and then immediately leased them to a Leisure Service Provider (Places for People Leisure, a registered charity) to manage on the Town Council’s behalf. This has brought significant benefits to the community and Middleton Pool has already seen the following improvements:

  • Employment of 7 full-time life guards
  • A smarter, corporate look for staff and premises.
  • A 50 week-per-year book-in facility for swimming lessons with Direct Debit, which makes budgeting and payments much easier for parents.
  • The introduction of free under-8 swimming when accompanied by a paying adult.
  • Construction beginning of the new permanent gym, set to open on or around the 1st April 2015.
  • Refurbishment works including replacement of the ventilation system start at the end of Nov 2014 and will be finished in time for the New Year.

Willen Road in turn has seen a much improved ground maintenance regime,      with pitches now in good condition.

The CAT programme has proved to be an innovative ‘win-win’ for communities and Milton Keynes Council. Each group involved in the CAT programme has benefited from greater security, flexibility and control from taking on a local community asset.

If you would like to discuss these case studies further, please contact Sarah Gonsalves on: Sarah.Gonsalves@Milton-keynes.gov.uk