What were the key learning points from WCVA’s Asset Transfer event? The National Assets Working Group reflect on the day.
The Asset Transfer event organised by the WCVA was a day of learning for all of us involved in community asset transfers – community groups, local councils and members of the National Assets Working Group (NAWG). For us in NAWG, it was an opportunity to engage directly with groups taking part in community asset transfers.
Setting out our stall
Sharing a stand with colleagues from the Welsh Government responsible for the Protecting Community Assets consultation, we brought our lifetime supply of Community Asset Transfers in Wales – A Best Practice Guide. By the time Lyn Cadwallader, Chair of One Voice Wales recommended the guidance, all copies of the English language version had gone (luckily, the internet never runs out!)
Our Welsh Government colleagues also offered up copies of their consultation on Protecting Community Assets (closing date 11 September 2015) – please have your say.
Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Finance and Government Business, outlined the Welsh Government’s support for community asset transfer and took questions from delegates. One question from the floor (with no easy answer) asked about funding for feasibility studies for community groups looking to take over community assets.
After the Minister’s speech, there were two speakers from the social enterprise sector; Louise Barr from Monwel, discussed their expansion as Wales’ largest signage manufacturer. The second speaker, Dinah Pye, from Cynon Valley Museum outlined their story in negotiating with Rhondda Cynon Taf council to re-open their heritage museum. She outlined the challenges arising from originating as a pressure group, then morphing into Trustees of the facility; namely that they had the correct skillset for the future and the importance of getting expert advice at the right time on contracts and employment law.
We were as keen to learn from the event as we were to engage with people and attended different workshops to gain some coverage of the issues being discussed. These included DTA Wales’ workshop on establishing viability of the community enterprise/ service – exploring how if an asset wasn’t viable, then it could become a liability.
Empower delivered an interesting workshop on developing an entrepreneurial culture within the team – stressing the need to be clear in target setting for outcomes; transparency on why that was necessary (how much money would be required each month to stay viable); and the need for everyone involved to own the solutions. There were also some sobering examples of poor management and cost control, bringing charities to the brink of insolvency.
There was a lot of emphasis given to the need to be as prepared as possible – business plans, employment law and TUPE were mentioned as recurring themes.
Representatives of Unity Trust Bank (an ethical and social bank) and the WCVA funding programme talked through how and when to access the funding available to social enterprise and community groups for both the initial community asset transfer and following that, any capital investment that might be needed. The message to take away was that loan finance can actually help attract other grant funding as the bank welcomes being part of match funding with other funding partners. Applicants should not be afraid to consider a range of funding streams and be prepared to think outside the box. There is plenty of advice and help available, be brave they said!
Geldards talked delegates through the legal issues that can present when groups and individuals take up the challenge of pursuing an asset transfer. They helped navigate the potential steps from a germ of an idea through to a full incorporation as a charitable or social enterprise organisation, focusing on how the risk of personal liability for an asset can be managed.
Reflections on the day
The event presented much needed access to information and professional advice, which can be provided by contacting the WCVA on their number: 0800 2888 329.
Whilst the work of the NAWG is focussed on the Welsh public sector, with the spotlight on community asset transfer, it was useful for us to discover the experiences of delegates, first hand. This will inevitably inform our work in this area and practically speaking, inform the development of our website and future guidance work. Engage with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.