To consider the report of the Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources seeking the adoption of the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Policy, to establish a framework and a process to help ascertain if a community organisation proposal is viable and how the Council can consider supporting an approach where appropriate.
9.1 The Cabinet Member for Performance and Resources, Councillor Hannah Norman, introduced the report. She advised Members that the City Council was regularly approached by community organisations who wished to take on land or buildings to support their organisational aims, noting that there were currently at least 10 organisations hoping to engage the council into transferring an asset.
9.2 Councillor Norman explained that the Policy sought to establish a framework and a process to help ascertain if a proposal from a community organisation was viable, and how the Council could consider supporting an approach.
9.3 Referring to Section 3.8 of the report, Councillor Norman noted that the Community Asset Transfer (CAT) Policy would set expectations as to what the Council would need to consider an application, provide an indication of the process including timeframes, allow clubs to better understand the implications of their request to take on an asset and allow the council to better support community organisations through considering applications on an individual basis. She also commented that the policy would enable more transparency around decision making.
9.4 The Chair stated that the report was an interesting one and that he welcomed the CAT Policy. He reflected on the experience of an organisation in his ward and stated that any proposals to streamline the asset transfer process would be welcomed.
9.5 Councillor Pullen commented that he felt that the CAT Policy was a good document and that in his view the City Council should be encouraging asset transfers to community organisations. Referring to the assessment process outlined at section 8.1 of the Policy, Councillor Pullen expressed concern that some organisations might not have the expertise to compile a full business case and asked whether the Council would be able to offer any support to organisations to assist them with their bid development.
9.6 Councillor Norman advised that the assessment process was a guide for organisations to work towards and that some organisations may already have some actions in place. She confirmed that the City Council would offer advice and signpost where appropriate and noted that community groups may pick up expertise from other Community Interest Companies (CICs) and funding arms.
9.7 In response to additional comments from Councillor Pullen, Councillor Norman stated that the policy provided a framework to work towards and aimed to formalise work the City Council was already doing.
9.8 Councillor Sawyer reflected on her experience of assisting community organisations in her ward and queried whether the criteria narrative in Section 8 could be amended to explicitly state that the City Council could provide advice and guidance to community organisations during the assessment process. The Head of Finance and Resources confirmed that the council would be willing to assist any organisations struggling with jargon and agreed to amend the wording as suggested.
9.9 In response to a query from the Chair, Councillor Norman noted that the community organisation network in Gloucester was already an intertwined one, and that the Council would signpost appropriately.
9.10 Councillor Wilson referred to the narrative at 4.3 in the Policy and asked for further information relating to the auditing process and whether the groups would be regularly audited. Councillor Norman explained that the council’s Asset Management team would issue rental based on the social value of the organisation, and compliance would be routinely monitored throughout the contractual term. She confirmed that it would be down to individual organisations to prove their social value.
9.11 In response to a query from Councillor Hilton regarding the criteria set out at 5.1 in the Policy, the Head of Finance and Resources assured Members that the council would be willing to work with and support organisations, however receiving information to support their request for an asset transfer was important. He noted that the council was keen to transfer assets to community organisations but would want to ensure that organisations look after them appropriately.
9.12 Councillor Hilton referred to the different forms of Community Asset Transfers outlined at 2.2 in the report and asked whether the council would consider the disposal of freehold assets as well as leasehold and assets under license. Councillor Norman confirmed that the council was not averse to selling an asset on a freehold basis if the right business case was made, however it was likely that the vast majority of assets would be transferred on a long leasehold basis.
RESOLVED – That the Overview and Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.