The Policy Journey
Over the past several years legislation and national policy in Scotland has developed to encourage and support the ownership of assets by communities. The journey to the current legislative position, where communities have legal rights to participate in policy development and buy assets from public bodies, is outlined below.
Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003
In 2003 The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gave communities the right to buy land and buildings in certain circumstances and represented a fundamental change in the legal and policy context surrounding ownership and land management, giving the potential for greater powers to be transferred to communities.
Community Empowerment Action Plan
Then in 2008 a joint COSLA/Scottish Government statement of commitment to Community Empowerment set both national and local government on a longer term path to make sure that more communities become more empowered across the country.
This commitment resulted in 2009 in the publication of the Community Empowerment Action Plan – a joint Scottish Government/COSLA policy document. In the Plan, Community Empowerment is defined as “a process where people work together to make change happen in their communities by having more power and influence over what matters to them”. This Action Plan makes clear that community ownership is one aspect of community empowerment, identifying it as one of eight actions that will help to build capacity to deliver empowerment. It recognises that in the right circumstances the acquisition of physical assets – a building or land – can make a major contribution to developing independent, strong and resilient communities.
Promoting Asset Transfer Pilot Programme
Following the publication of this Plan, the Scottish Government funded the Development Trusts Association Scotland to deliver the Promoting Asset Transfer Programme, focusing on the transfer of assets from local authorities to communities at less than market value. The aim was to raise awareness about the benefits and risks associated with asset transfer, effect cultural change in local authorities and improve practice.
Disposal of Land by Local Authorities (Scotland) Regulations
The powers to transfer assets at less than market value were established in The Local Government in Scotland Act 2003, which amended section 74 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, and set out that the Scottish Ministers may, by regulations, provide the circumstances in which local authorities can dispose of land at less than the best consideration that can be reasonably obtained.
Then in 2010 Scottish Ministers issued the Disposal of Land by Local Authorities (Scotland) Regulations which give discretionary powers to local authorities to dispose of land (and assets) to community organisations at less than best consideration, without reference to the Minister.
Christie Commission Report
The Commission was established by the Scottish Government in November 2010 to develop recommendations for the future delivery of public services. The Commission, which was chaired by Dr Campbell Christie CBE, operated independently of government. It completed its work in June 2011 and published its report on Wednesday 29 June 2011. A summary of the recommendations of The Commission can be downloaded here.
Some of the identified priorites were:
- Recognising that effective services must be designed with and for people and communities - not delivered 'top down' for administrative convenience.
- Maximising scarce resources by utilising all available resources from the public, private and third sectors, individuals, groups and communities.
- Working closely with individuals and communities to understand their needs, maximise talents and resources, support self reliance, and build resilience.
- Making provision in the Community Empowerment Act to embed community participation in the design and delivery of services.
Public Finance Manual
Also in 2014 changes were made to the Public Finance Manual to bring other public bodies into line with Local Authorities to allow them to transfer assets at less than market value with Scottish Ministers approval.
Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015
In 2015 the Scottish Government introduced the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act. This Act strengthens the legislation that has gone before. It reflects the policy principles of community empowerment and improving outcomes and provides a framework which will:
- empower community bodies through the ownership, lease and management of land and buildings and strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them; and
- support an increase in the pace and scale of public service reform by cementing the focus on achieving outcomes and improving the process of community planning.
The Community Empowerment Act was passed in June 2015 and given Royal Assent on 24th July 2015. Part 5: Asset Transfer was implemented on 23rd January 2015. Detailed guidance notes for community groups can be found on the Scottish Government website or download below.