Defining purpose is the first stage of the asset transfer process. The land or building being transferred should be chosen for a specific reason, rather than starting with an asset and attempting to find a purpose for it. Initially, this may seem straightforward in the case of community libraries as they already have a function. However, it is almost certain that the function and use of a library is likely to change in a number of ways when transferred into community ownership. Revenue support may be likely to decrease meaning that services will need to be downsized or delivered more efficiently or differently. In either case there needs to be a clear vision for the future use of the library building, and the service.
Community organisations may be seeking an asset transfer of a library for a range of reasons, for example:
- Save an existing library that is threatened with closure.
- Take on a library to deliver an improved, or more comprehensive service to the community.
- Take on a library building that is surplus to the councils requirements and develop new uses that meet community needs.
- Take on a library building to establish a community enterprise that will generate income to support other community activities.
Local authorities may be seeking to transfer library services for other reasons, for example:
- To reduce the running costs of its library service.
- To address issues with underused libraries.
- To transfer underutilised public buildings for community benefit.
Having clarity of purpose from the perspective of both the local authority, and the community organisation is important in establishing a successful partnership.
A key consideration for both local authorities and community organisations is to determine whether they will be required to deliver public library services that constitute part of the authority’s statutory responsibility. If this is the case, there are several requirements that need to be met as detailed in the featured legal note.
Asset transfer works best where it responds directly to the needs of the community in which it is situated. This means defining the purpose must be led by and involve local people. Asset transfer is far more likely to be successful where there is buy-in and support from a good cross-section of the community.
Community organisations engaging in asset transfer should have pre-existing roots and links to the relevant community that they can tap into. Where this does not exist, relationships should be forged with community and voluntary sector groups in the area. This should happen at an early stage, when the purpose is still being defined. People are more likely to support a transfer when they have an input into the plans.