Serious negotiation will usually need to take place between all parties over the suitability of the asset, and the terms on which it can be transferred. For example: whose responsibility it is to make it ﬁt for purpose, is the title to be transferred or a lease entered into, and for how long?
Working in partnership from the outset, in a spirit of mutual respect and with the long-term community benefit in mind, is the key to overcoming inevitable barriers and frustrations.
You will need to manage the expectations of others, ensure your own expectations are realistic, and above all remain positive and calm.
You must align your approach to the provisions in Part 5: Asset Transfer of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 to ensure you are following all the legal requirements.
The capacity of partners, both in the community and public sectors, to engage actively in an asset transfer partnership determines the likelihood of success. A mixture of time and expertise are required to progress the transfer successfully.
An understanding of community development approaches, property management, and business planning will all be required alongside other skills and expertise. For relevant authority staff who are leading on the transfer, skills in facilitation and brokerage (both internally between departments and between the community organisation and relevant authority) will be needed.
In some cases, small community organisations that are relatively new can find it difficult to engage effectively given the capacity required. However this is not always the case, and many groups can call on an impressive array of expertise from within their community. Groups may also find that, once their intentions have been made public, there is increasing demand from local people for information or the opportunity to influence the plans for the asset. Responding to these demands will also require a considered approach and take time.
National bodies such as Development Trusts Association Scotland, SCVO or the members of the Scottish Community Alliance offer support in terms of skills development and opportunities to learn from other community organisations who have successfully taken on assets. Larger community organisations or intermediary bodies (such as Third Sector Interfaces) may also be able to assist, and may provide a useful role in brokering relationships between the local authority and smaller organisations.
Getting down to detail
When going through the asset transfer process, the devil is in the detail. It can be very time consuming and frustrating negotiating the basics, even once the principle of transfer and the broad Heads Of Terms have been agreed. Sorting the details such as VAT, who pays what etc. is often much more tricky.
The key to moving forward is to agree a timescale for the key stages negotiated in partnership, through a transparent discussion of the challenges and an understanding of the needs of all parties.
Be prepared for the long haul - the details take time to iron out, and all parties realising this at the start will avoid (or at least mitigate) frustration. However it should be noted that once a legal Asset Transfer Request has been submitted, and validation notice issued acknowledging all information has been received, timescales laid down in the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 will apply.
Ensuring long term success
The importance of partnership in the asset transfer process does not end once the lease has been signed or the keys handed over. The relationships forged in the ﬁre of asset transfer can have a lasting impact on the way the community sector and the statutory partners work together. This impact may only become apparent several years after the asset has been transferred, as a result of the key people in the different sectors having a greater awareness of each other's varying perspectives, and also having broadened their network of contacts.
If working in partnership with each other is embedded in the culture of the organisations involved, the asset transfer is more likely to succeed over the long-term. However, if only one or two people are effectively the driving force, that is likely to undermine the long-term sustainability of the project.