The Co-op Party has given an enthusiastic welcome to a “substantial shift” in policy by its sister party Labour, with shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy announcing a new emphasis on community ownership.
In a speech on Monday, 18 July, Nandy said a Labour government would bring in a community right to buy, giving “communities the opportunity to take control of pubs, historic buildings and football clubs that come up for sale or fall into disrepair”.
She added that Mark Gregory, former chief economist of Ernst & Young, will lead a commission to explore how community groups can best leverage private investment to buy assets, how a fund can best support communities and what safeguards need to be put in place.
In a blog post on the Co-op Party website, campaigns officer James Butler said these ideas were advocated in its Unlocking our High Streets Campaign.
“We’re not just asking for money to save the likes of pubs and post offices,” he wrote. “We want those assets held in perpetuity for the benefit of the common good. Yet our members, councillors and the community face significant challenges to transformative change.”
Butler said the Co-op Party has “called for common ownership to be put at the heart of Labour’s offer to left-behind communities, and Lisa Nandy has embraced it. She has proposed a radical alternative to the Conservatives’ increasingly insipid-looking levelling up agenda, and her vision is largely a co-operative one.
“Through our campaigns and policy work, we have highlighted the great work that is going on around the country by co-operators in communities and on councils. Lisa Nandy is promising that she will put rocket boosters under what has been achieved.”
Nandy’s community right to buy is “a substantial improvement on the Community Right to Bid”, added Butler. “Communities will have first refusal on assets of community value, on long-term vacant property, and the right to buy them without competition. Communities need longer than the current statutory six months to raise funds, and Labour will extend the time to 12 months. This is very welcome and is what we’ve called for to make widespread community ownership of valued assets a reality for many.
“A Labour and Co-operative government would also reform compulsory purchase orders to allow communities to bring public buildings into use – we’ve called for this as part of our Unlock the High Street Campaign.”
Butler said the Party wants to “give communities the power, time and funding they need to transform their own local areas, rather than go cap-in-hand to Whitehall, adding: “When co-operative values shape policy, the outcome is one where everyone has a say and a stake in their community’s success.
“That is community power in action.”
Nandy’s speech. given at the Forum, a community-owned music venue in Darlington, discussed the urgency of the need to tackle climate change – where she repeated Labour’s pledge for a decade-long £28bn a year fund to help communities develop clean energy jobs – and deliver inclusive growth for all regions.
She said: “It falls to Labour to meet this moment: to renew the national economy so that it works for the great majority of people and share prosperity across all parts of the United Kingdom. To achieve this and to build new industries from the ground up requires a new approach to government. A centralised, remote, bureaucratic state has turned devolution into a circus, with mayors and council leaders competing for crumbs and so often, people and places cut out of the conversation. None of the challenges that fall to us can be solved from the centre. It will take a nation.”
Community business charity Power to Change, which supports the Forum, also welcomed the speech.
Policy and public affairs manager Nick Plumb said: “A new community right to buy is something that we at Power to Chage have been calling for to help revive local places, in particular our beleaguered high streets. Research shows that under the current Assets of Community Value (ACV) regime, only 15 assets listed as ACVs end up in community ownership. There is huge latent demand out there. The new community right to buy would help meet this.
“It was great to see Lisa Nandy emphasise the way in which community ownership provides places ‘the asset base to establish strong community businesses’. Importantly, this isn’t a government handout. It is a way of providing communities with an asset, a firm basis from which they can develop and deliver businesses and services that retain wealth in the local economy.”
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