A community managed library is very likely to require external support from public bodies, funders and other partner organisations. Successful asset transfers are those that deliver against a broad range of often competing interests and maximise the opportunities for public benefit.
Both local authorities and community groups with ambitions for transferring libraries will need to become familiar with relevant Government policy and existing good practice. Local groups should also familiarise themselves with the Library services and asset transfer strategy of the local authority, if such documents exist. Currently, the public sector is experiencing significant change, with a combination of challenging budget reductions and a series of new policy initiatives from the Government.
Libraries have the potential to deliver and support a wide range of positive outcomes for communities. Consideration of relevant strategies and policies will help organisations to develop their services, and also to articulate the benefits they may be able to bring to a range of agendas.
At a national and local level there are various policies and strategies that have implications for asset transfer and community services. You do not need to understand them all in detail at once. However, both local authorities promoting library transfers and community organisations with ambitions for the same, will need to become familiar with the high level aims and uses of relevant policies and tools summarised.
This section is not intended to be a definitive list, but to highlights a range of strategies that community managed libraries could be well positioned to deliver on. In particular the focus here is on
• Library Services
• Informal and lifelong learning
• Digital inclusion and information literacy
• Children and Young People
• Big Society and Decentralisation
• Asset transfer
• Economic Development
• Community Planning
• Equality, Diversity and Community Cohesion
It is also worth establishing whether the local authority has a relevant library services strategy, or a strategy that relates to the way in which you wish to develop your project. Your proposals should be relevant to other existing strategies such as relating to education and learning, or community cohesion strategies.
The Museums and Library Act
A key consideration with regards to asset transfers and libraries is the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964. It is important to clarify whether the authority is expecting the community organisation to contribute to the delivery of its public library service as part of its statutory duty.
It is possible that the authority may be transferring library buildings for community organisations to develop and use without a requirement for them to deliver traditional library services, for example where a building is considered surplus to requirements. This has been the case for example where an authority has developed alternative ways of meeting its statutory requirement, such as a mobile library services.
Framework for the Future (Libraries, Learning and Information in the Next Decade – Dept for Culture Media and Sport)
Although coming to the end of its life, this strategy was published by the DCMS in 2003 looking at the future of Libraries, Learning and Information in the Next Decade (up to 2013). The document sets out the then government’s strategic vision for the role of public libraries. Its purpose was to help local and library authorities agree on the key objectives for the public library service with central government and local communities. The strategy recognises public libraries as a valuable infrastructure, which has the potential to help local councils deliver their corporate agenda.
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council published an action plan based on this strategy titled Framework for the Future: MLA Action Plan for Public Libraries ‘towards 2013’.
From the 1st October 2011, the Arts Council for England (ACE) took over responsibility for supporting and developing libraries as part of the functions inheriedt from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).
Since then there has been a move towards closer integration of library services with other cultural and arts services. This vision is set out in the strategy document “Culture, knowledge and understanding: great museums and libraries for everyone” published in September 2011.
ACE have sinced developed a variety of work programmes and funding streams in support of this agenda.
Informal adult learning White Paper: The Learning Revolution
The DIUS (now BIS) published this White Paper in 2009. It sets out the government’s strategy for informal learning. The strategy recognises the importance of informal adult learning to people’s lives and our well-being. It acknowledges that informal learning can help people gain personal satisfaction, development and fulfilment. It highlights how informal learning can be an important stepping stone to further learning, qualifications and more rewarding work and how it can help keep people mentally and physically active and independent into old age.
Families, learning and culture: Inspiring families through museums, libraries and archives. Published by the MLA, and written NIACE 2008, this document Illustrates how libraries work with families.
Digital Britain, / Digital Economy Bill
Produced by the DCMS and BIS, Digital Britain is a policy document published in 2009, which outlined the Government’s strategic vision for ensuring that the country is at the leading edge of the global digital economy. This has report led directly to the Digital Economy Bill.
This bill will:
- support growth in the creative and digital sectors.
- tackle online piracy, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing.
- support the availability of public service content, especially local news.
Libraries have a role to play in helping people access the internet and digital information.
Every Child Matters: Every Child Matters is a set of reforms supported by the Children Act 2004. Its aim is for every child, whatever their background or circumstances, to have the support they need to:
- be healthy
- stay safe
- enjoy and achieve
- make a positive contribution
- achieve economic well-being.
This led to children’s trust partnerships. As CILIP identify, “Libraries play a critical role in early years reading and learning and could do more. They are a valued resource for parents, grandparents, carers and everyone concerned for the welfare and development of children.”
The government first launched the Big Society as a policy programme as ‘Building the Big Society’ on 18th May 2010. This set out proposals for implementing the Big Society vision.
The Big Society has been presented as the alternative to ‘big government’, with the Prime Minister saying the Government is “committed to a radical shift of power from Westminster to local people”. The Big Society and decentralisation message attempts to re-balance the relationship between the Government and the governed.
The twin track themes behind the Big Society philosophy are:
- A drive to ensure a bigger role for ‘civil society’ and to encourage more citizen involvement and community action.
- A drive to diversify public service delivery and to increase community and voluntary sector provision of more citizen-focused services.
The Localism Act
Legislation comes into force iin 2012. Within the act there are provisions for new Community Rights, a set of powers which give you more control over your community. Commnities can now have a say in what happens to important local amenities such as shops, parks and pubs.
Community Right to Build: The Right to Build gives communities the power to build new shops, housing or community facilities without going through the normal planning process. Read our Understanding the Community Right to Build guide and also find out how it works.
Community Right to Bid: The Right to Bid gives communities the opportunity to bid to buy and run valued local amenities if they come onto the open market. (In effect from autumn 2012). Get advice on owning and managing community assets including asset transfer which Locality has been supporting through the Asset Transfer Unit for many years.
Community Right to Challenge: The Right to Challenge gives local groups the opportunity to express their interest in taking over a local service where they think they can do it differently and better. Read the Understanding the Community Right to Challenge guide and find out how it works.
Neighbourhood Planning: Neighbourhood planning powers give people the chance to decide how their local area should develop and what should be built.
The new Rights are contained within the Localism Act which comes into effect in 2012 devolving power from government to communities, local authorities and individuals.
More information in relation to the community rights and associated support is available from www.mycommunityrights.org.uk
In 2007 an independent review was published into the management and ownership of community assets. The review was led by Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of London Borough of Lewisham. The Quirk Review concluded positively in favour of asset transfer.
As well as summarising the multiple benefits of asset transfer, (examples are explored in the body of the report), the review did not shy away from examining obstacles and barriers. However, it concluded that: “The benefits of community management and ownership of public assets can outweigh the risks and often the opportunity costs in appropriate circumstances. And if there is a rational and thorough consideration of these risks and opportunity costs, there are no substantive impediments to the transfer of public assets to communities. It can be done; indeed it has been done legitimately and successfully in very many places”.
Although there has been a key shift in public policy as it effects asset transfer, from a ‘demand pull’ for transfer from communities to a ‘supply push’ from public bodies to transfer assets, it is still a very relevant document in terms of the understanding the opportunities and challenges involved.
Asset transfers almost always have a significant element of local, and sometimes wider, economic impact, that interrelates with other issues such as health, crime, social exclusion, education and environmental concerns. The economic ‘ripple effect’ of an asset transfer can be significant, particularly in areas of market failure.
Building Learning Communities
Published by the MLA, this report looks at the potential of museums, libraries and archives in supporting individuals and families through the effects of recession.
Local Economic Partnerships
In June 2010 the Coalition Government invited businesses and councils to come together to address economic growth and “…form LEPs whose geography properly reflects the natural economic areas of England”,
Their role is to provide strategic leadership, setting out local economic priorities with a major emphasis on rebalancing the economy to the private sector. Not all local authorities will come within a LEP boundary.
Sustainable Communities Strategy
Under Part One of the Local Government Act 2000, local authorities in England and Wales have to produce a Community Strategy, (often known as the Community Plan), to promote the social, economic and environmental wellbeing of their areas. This process is referred to as creating ‘sustainable communities’.
The Sustainable Community Strategy outlines the steps that the local authority will take towards achieving sustainable improvement, and is reached by a process of community planning. Government guidance suggests that the Sustainable Community Strategy should address three main objectives:
- The aspirations, needs and priorities of local communities.
- Co-ordinate the actions of public, private, voluntary and community organisations.
- Shape and focus existing and future activities of these organisations to meet community needs.
Statutory Land Use
The planning system comprises two main functions:
- Preparing plans and policies towards development into the future (20yrs +).
- Development control, which is the day to day decisions made on whether development of land and buildings can go ahead.
The planning system is important for asset transfer since it essentially helps to set land values and will determine what can be done with existing building assets.
At the local level the Local Development Framework (LDF) is the most important set of documents. The LDF must also integrate with the local Community Strategy, to help deliver the long-term vision and ambitions for the area.
The LDF is made up of a number of documents covering particular topics; in particular it provides a policy framework for decisions about the use and development of land. Although each planning application is assessed on its individual merits, the decision to grant or refuse permission is made in line with those policies set out in the LDF.
Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 allows a Local Planning Authority to enter into a legally-binding agreement or planning obligation with a land developer over a related issue. The obligation is commonly referred to as a ‘Section 106 Agreement’. The agreements can provide financial commitments to provide both capital funds and built facilities, although the opportunities to do so in the immediate future are likely to be significantly squeezed.
The Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) is a new provision that came into force in April 2010, where local authorities in England and Wales will be empowered, but not required, to charge on most types of new development in their area. CIL charges have been proposed to be based on simple formulae which relates to the size and character of the development paying for it. The proceeds of the levy will be spent on local and sub-regional infrastructure to support the development of the area.
Implementation of the Equality Act legislation began on 1st October 2010. In summary, the aim of the new legislation is to harmonise discrimination law and to strengthen it to support progress on equality.
- Has the community organisation identified where the asset transfer adds value to relevant Government policies, in particular, the Sustainable Community Strategy and local strategies of the local authority?
- Are stakeholders able to communicate succinctly the benefits of the project to potential funders and investors?
- s there a clear process in the Local Authority for how transfers are to be handled in the local authority, (including a practical method for taking account of the benefits that community ownership might bring), with a timescale for a staged decision-making?