A guide to local government for community businesses

  • 29th Jul 2022

Community businesses stand to benefit greatly from a strong working relationship with their local authority, and vice-versa. However, many community businesses may find the world of local government difficult to navigate. This guide explains that world in simple terms and offers practical advice to community businesses to enable them to strengthen their relationships with their local councils to mutual benefit. A limitation of this guide is that it can never substitute for human relationships between people working in community business and local government respectively. Relationships between organisations, after all, are underpinned by relationships between people.

Local authorities – steered by elected members and managed by appointed officials – are responsible for delivering a wide array of services in the local area, using their staff, contractors, money, land, buildings, vehicles, powers and influence. They do this through a variety of structures in order to secure a limited set of high-level outcomes to which they aspire, to make a place, for instance, ‘safe and cohesive’, to create ‘a clean and healthy place’ or ‘an inclusive economy’. If a community business can show that its work contributes to one or more of these outcomes – demonstrating strategic alignment with the council – then it is well-placed to derive meaningful support from its local authority.

This support can take a number of forms. It may come in the form of physical assets, such as empty land to develop, a pier to regenerate or premises to rent. Under some circumstances, ownership of these assets can be transferred altogether to a community business which then takes on any associated liabilities. On other occasions, support may come from the council in terms of planning permission to develop a site or build an extension, or the allocation of a licence to serve food and drink in a community hub’s café. Often, support will be available in the form of money, either via business rates relief, grants, contracts for commissioned work or impact investment. Alternatively, the support on offer might take the form of assistance with capacity building, helping the community business develop its business plan, fundraise externally or quantify its impact.

In return, community businesses can offer a great deal to local authorities, even if councils that are unused to dealing with community businesses might need some help to realise it. Community businesses can step up and fill gaps left in public service provision as parts of the state recede, constrained by austerity. Community businesses, with their deep roots in a local community, can offer a business model which secures more by way of social and economic value for members of that local community than most alternative providers, creating jobs

About the authors:

Cllr Andy Hull has been an elected councillor for Highbury West ward for nine years and the London Borough of Islington’s Executive Member for Finance, Performance and Community Safety for the past six. In 2010, he set up and ran the Islington Fairness Commission – the first of over 30 fairness commissions across the UK. He has led campaigns locally and nationally to address problems of working poverty, payday lending, modern slavery, welfare reform and social isolation.

Power to Change is an independent charitable trust, established in 2015, that supports and develops community businesses in England through grantmaking, research, capacity building and policy work. Over seven years, until 2022, it is using its £150 million endowment from The Big Lottery Fund to strengthen community businesses, providing money, advice and support to help local people come together to solve problems for their community, revive local assets, take control and make better places. Power to Change believes that nobody understands a community better than the people who live there