A report published today by the Co-op Party has repeated calls for local communities to be given the right to buy local assets.
The Community Ownership Commission report says this would help put communities in the driving seat to drive local economic and social renewal.
The Unleashing Community Ownership report, led by former Ernst and Young chief economist Mark Gregory – is part of the Party’s efforts to influence its sister organisation Labour as it considers options for its general election manifesto.
It recommends introducing new rights allowing locals to take ownership of assets such as pubs, historic buildings and football clubs that come up for sale or fall into disrepair.
Measures in the report include a stronger Community Right to Buy, as well as critical reform to the system alongside better engagement between groups and local government.
“Local authorities and other organisations with significant estates, such as the NHS, should be required to review their portfolios to identify assets which can be transferred or sold to communities,” it argues.
“Communities should be formally incorporated into decision-making and governance. Labour should introduce a process that requires the approval of a partnership of locally accountable community organisations for the local growth and development plan, and the allocation of community ownershipr-elated funding.
“Local authorities should be encouraged and incentivised to play a leading role working in partnership with communities to transform their places. This will require increased resources for local authorities to engage more with communities, deal with the increased volume and complexity of activity caused by a Right to Buy, connect with potential funders, and provide tailored support to community businesses.”
The report also recommends that more funding be made available to groups who want to save local assets, especially in deprived parts of the country.
“Labour should aim to increase the incremental number of assets acquired with Commmunity Ownership Fund support to 150 annually within two years of introducing reform and to 300 within five years,” it says. “We estimate this will require £231m over five years of which £26m should be allocated to engagement with communities to build a future acquisition pipeline.
Labour has signalled support for such ideas before, and in 2022 Lisa Nandy, its then shadow levelling up secretary, announced it would introduce a Community Right to Buy to give local groups first refusal on bidding for high street shops that have been vacant for a long time, as well as assets earmarked as important by the council, such as football clubs, pubs and playing fields.
Co-op Party general secretary Joe Fortune said: “Our communities are being hollowed out of their most important assets. It is harrowing to think that it is a trend that has not arrested.
“A strong theme of community ownership should be at the heart of a new approach to place-based economic development. On top of the economic and societal benefits, focusing on community ownership will give individuals more of a say and stake in the place where they live.”