At the Good Practice Exchange we try to ensure that events we’ve held aren’t the end point for any topic we work on. We try and share ideas, resources and perspectives to hopefully start some conversations and encourage people to identify opportunities to improve their work.
We didn’t have long to wait before the first piece of practice was shared on Twitter during our Making Better Use of Public Assets seminar, as the Communities First Advice and Support Service got in touch to let us know about some interesting work that’s taken place in Cardiff to help a community organisation to take over an asset.
I was keen to learn more about it as it fitted neatly with Richard Davies’ workshop, which looked at the support needed by voluntary and community organisations to ensure a successful transfer. I spoke to Gareth Kiddie, who worked as a consultant to an asset transfer in Pentrebane, and Michelle Powell of ACE (Action in Caerau and Ely) who supported the process.
At the seminar Richard spoke about many of the challenges facing community organisations, with capacity being a key issue. Community organisations rely on volunteers, so it’s no surprise that Gareth said that the Competitive Tender process was a barrier to asset transfer, rather than an enabler. Gareth instead suggested supporting the organisation from an early stage so that they have access to the right knowledge and expertise and a real opportunity for success.
Gareth also highlighted the issue of capacity in a different sense, in that TUPE was also an issue for community organisations. Small voluntary organisations are not normally in a position to offer the same terms for staff as the public sector. Again, working with the community organisation at an early stage helped them to overcome this.
In my phonecall with Michelle, she mentioned the importance of flexibility to the process. The building was going to close imminently, but an expression of interest to the council meant that the organisation was given a license to occupy. This license gave Action in Caerau and Ely an opportunity to work alongside the organisation. This meant that they were able to build up a series of activities, which in turn helped them to put a business plan together and better forecast costs.
Michelle also mentioned how continual communication between the council and the community organisation was vital as both organisations knew where they stood. Communication has improved since the council appointed a dedicated officer, which will aid the process in the future. It’s also great that a Stepping Up Toolkit for developing and managing services and assets has been put together. I think the language used in the toolkit is great – it’s easy to get to grips with, which is a massive help as the process itself can be complex.
Public sector organisations are going to be under financial pressure for some time to come, so it’s likely that more assets will be transferred to voluntary and community organisations. It’s vital then that we learn lessons from each other’s approaches, so that we can ensure the best possible use of these assets for communities around Wales.