An asset transfer will represent a significant financial commitment to both the local authority and the community organisation. Because of this, it is strongly recommended that a feasibility study is conducted first.
A feasibility study is not a business plan. It is a piece of work to look at whether a proposed project:
- Is really needed?
- Can be accomplished?
- Is viable and sustainable in the long term?
If the answer to these questions is clearly ‘no’, then the business case for transfer will not be strong enough to proceed. By using a feasibility study to answer these fundamental questions, it will avoid both parties getting into difficulty further down the line, often when large amounts of time and money have already been spent.
To decide whether a project is feasible it is necessary to know what is to be achieved and why at the outset, ie: to agree the project objectives. Use the SMART acronym below to test that the objectives are ‘action orientated’ :
- Specific – objectives should specify what you want to achieve;
- Measurable – you should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not;
- Achievable – are the objectives you have set achievable and attainable?
- Realistic – can you realistically achieve the objectives with the resources you have?
- Time – when do you want / need to achieve the objectives?
An example of a SMART object might be to set up a new organisation by the end of the calendar year, which will own the library and fundraise for the development of a new children’s library.
You will not know for sure whether all your objectives are SMART until some of the feasibility research is complete, but when it is, project objectives are used to inform the scope of the initial assessment and the development of the Business Plan.
It is important to note that a feasibility study will only answer the questions asked of it. So, if the focus is just on financial viability, other practical elements such as whether there is adequate space for the range of uses for which it is intended may be missed.
Some prospective funders (or other partner organisations), may insist on a feasibility study, particularly for an ambitious or unusual project. There are consultancies who specialise in feasibility studies. The disadvantage of using an external organisation is that they can be expensive and they will not necessarily know the partners involved in the project, the community or the locality very well.
Topics to be included in a feasibility study might include:
- Looking at local competition and how the library in question will ‘fit’ into the local network of other libraries and community facilities in the area?
- Land / building ownership – can it be secured? On what terms? Are there constraints on what can be done with it? Is it in the right place for what you want to do, eg: if there is not much passing pedestrian trade, will a cafe work?
- Stakeholders – can their support be relied upon?
- Technical – are there likely to be problems (or inordinate costs) associated with developing the land or buildings, eg: contamination, planning consent, structural problems?
- Capital viability – are you likely to be able to raise the capital necessary to buy and develop the land / building?
- Revenue viability – is there market demand for what you propose? Are you likely to cover your revenue costs?
- How the project will be managed – who is the champion? Is the community organisation up to the task of transfer?
- Is there enough time to plan and implement the transfer?
Projects that are not viable are simply those than cannot meet all their costs over a specified period. It is perfectly possible to have a project which will take time to become viable, but it must be shown how the funding to bridge the gap and cover the cost of any loan repayments has been addressed.
Locality are currently offering enterprise development support to community organisations seeking to take on the management of library services and buildings.
Funding for feasibility studies can be difficult to secure: Visit www.mycommunityrights.org.uk for more information on grants and advice availavble for community organisations looking to take on buildlings and / or services.