This week’s national press coverage investigating the sale of council assets is welcome, as it shines a much-needed light on the difficult choices faced by many councils. However, it also conflated buildings with outcomes.
Community assets do not deliver outcomes simply by existing; they achieve outcomes by being used effectively to deliver quality services. In an era of declining resources, it makes sense for local authorities to consider how to best use the assets they own to provide support to those who need it most. There are many who love the concept of a library or community centre, but who haven’t set foot in either for years (I know I’m guilty of this). IMPOWER has experience advising local authorities on these choices, having worked with clients to help them tailor investments to meet the needs of different areas and fight social deprivation.
Many authorities have been able to reduce the number of assets they require by bringing together services into one location. This can enable services to work better with partners, and also provide a much better service to residents. Rather than having to go to several different buildings to get different types of advice, residents can instead go to a single location.
The focus on council buildings and council services in the news stories also ignores the vital role that the voluntary and community sector play in building resilience in their local area. Some of the assets that have been sold still provide much-needed services – but those services are being delivered by community organisations (which may be more likely to understand and be able to respond to local needs). Support groups can gather in places of worship or coffee shops; they needn’t be hostage to traditional beliefs about where meetings can happen.
Losing social landmarks is never an easy thing, but need not be a disaster if local authorities and partners think creatively about how they can meet the needs of communities beyond just bricks and mortar.