This report presents findings from an evaluation of Part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 (the Act). Implemented on 23 January 2017, Part 5 of the Act relates to asset transfer requests. It gives community transfer bodies the right to request to buy or lease assets from relevant authorities. Whilst asset transfer is not a new process, the legislation opens up new opportunities for communities, enabling communities to take on public sector land and buildings while placing new responsibilities on relevant authorities to respond to their requests in a transparent and timely way. As part of the Scottish Government’s commitment to review asset transfer requests, a team at Glasgow Caledonian University was commissioned to undertake research to document the ways in which this new provision has been implemented by relevant authorities and used at a local level, and the impact that Part 5 is having. This executive summary presents the key findings of the evaluation.
The evaluation focused on the extent to which asset transfer requests may contribute to a series of intermediate and longer-term outcomes which were set out in a study conducted by Myers, Geyer and Craig (2017), who assessed the evaluability of Part 5 of the Act and developed a Theory of Change model to describe how the implementation of Part 5 of the Act might contribute to change. The evaluation adopted a range of methods to collect primary data, including in-depth interviews with key stakeholders (n=25); a group interview with three participants; and participant observations (n=3). Secondary data were sourced through the collation of key documents including asset transfer request annual reports from relevant authorities. Qualitative data were analysed in NVivo. Quantitative data were analysed in SPSS.
Findings: relevant authority implementation and community transfer body use of the legislation
- According to available relevant authority annual reports, between 2017 and 2019, relevant authorities received 139 asset transfer requests, agreed to 81 and refused 10. The data suggests an increase in activity between 2017-2018 and 2018-2019.
- The majority of asset transfer requests were submitted to local authorities (85% in 2017-2018 and 79% in 2018-2019).
- Between 2017 and 2019, 53 requests were made for buildings (53% and 27% of all requests in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 respectively). The number of requests for both land and buildings was 21 (9% and 20% of all requests in 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 respectively). In 2017-2018, the purposes of most applications were community hubs (n=8), community parks/woodlands (n=8), and men’s/ community sheds (n=7). In 2018-2019, the purposes of most applications were community hubs (n=17), community parks/woodlands/gardens (n=12) and sports/recreational facilities (n=11).
- Relevant authorities promoted asset transfer requests through varied pathways (website, internal and external information events, publication of asset register, and first point of contact). Extensive promotion was constrained by financial and time pressures on relevant authorities.
- Relevant authorities noted the complexity surrounding ‘best value’ assessment and the need to quantify community benefits in order to decide the level of discount offered to community transfer bodies.
- Between 2017 and 2019, no specific references to inequalities or to disadvantaged or marginalised groups were made in available relevant authority annual reports.
Findings: intermediate outcomes of asset transfer requests
- Increased community ownership, control and use
Asset transfer requests are viewed as a mechanism through which communities can design and deliver services to address local needs. Examples include mental and physical health services, youth clubs, and community spaces.
- Relevant authority culture change
The culture of authorities can be a barrier to effective implementation of asset transfer requests legislation: some community transfer bodies experienced difficulties with relevant authorities, describing authorities as hostile or obstructive. While clear evidence of culture change will only occur over time, there was evidence that relevant authorities were taking steps to create change by challenging internal beliefs and values.
- Increased obligations of community transfer bodies
There is evidence that communities experience increased obligation related to assets, post-transfer. The outcome of this obligation can be both positive, in terms of caring for an asset which generates benefit, or negative – if the asset becomes burdensome in terms of commitment to look after it. In the latter circumstance, findings highlight the importance of support services matched to community transfer body needs, funding and expertise.
- Community cohesion and capacity building
Evidence suggests that the asset transfer request process may be ‘transformational’ for small communities, supporting increased community cohesion/involvement and capacity building.
Findings: longer-term outcomes of asset transfer requests
Given the recent introduction of Part 5 of the Act (January 2017), it is too early to draw conclusions in relation to the longer-term outcomes of asset transfer requests. The potential for asset transfer requests to enable long-term outcomes includes:
- Potential for increased community empowerment
Some community transfer bodies reported that asset transfer requests had enabled aspects of empowerment and also that they had supported increased levels of volunteering in communities. Other community transfer bodies noted that while they perceive the potential for asset transfer requests to increase community empowerment, the impact of this was not yet fully realised.
- Improved access to services
Based on the purposes of submitted asset transfer requests, the available data indicate that asset transfer requests may improve community access to services. The impacts of this will be better understood over time.
- Reduced inequalities of outcome
While the analysis of annual reports suggests a spread of requests across areas of differing SIMD level, some interviewees suggested that the asset transfer request process is more easily accessible to communities with sufficient levels of capacity, skills and knowledge to take on the ownership of an asset. Relatedly, communities lacking capacity and access to individuals with critical skills and expertise felt the process of applying was intimidating and challenging, a view that was backed up in interviews with relevant authorities. It is not yet clear whether this may lead to an increase in inequalities, as suggested by Myers et al. (2017), given that assets transferred may provide services to a wide range of groups. Nevertheless, findings suggest that some communities will need additional support to be able to undertake an asset transfer process successfully.
Recommendations for the Scottish Government include:
- Ensuring relevant authorities meet statutory annual reporting duties to enable on-going monitoring of Part 5 of the Act. On-going and improved reporting should underpin future assessments of the longer-term impact of asset transfer requests.
- To further facilitate reporting and evaluation, there is a need to compose a definitive list of Scottish Ministers that own or have property in their care. This list should be reviewed on a regular basis.
- Given the challenges that relevant authorities experienced in assessing ‘best value’ when assessing asset transfer requests, the Scottish Government should work with relevant stakeholders to develop guidance on valuation matrices/models for determining ‘best value’ for assets.
- The Scottish Government should continue to work with key partners to identify actions that may help to overcome any barriers to the use of asset transfer requests by marginalised groups or disadvantaged communities. Consideration should be given to mapping funding options and support/capacity services, and providing better signposting to these services.
Recommendations for relevant authorities include:
- Wider promotion of asset transfer requests to raise internal and external awareness of Part 5 of the Act is needed.
- Relevant authorities should ensure that asset transfer requests have a transparent timeline. This will mitigate against diminishing community momentum and enthusiasm, and help to establish and maintain good or improved relationships between relevant authorities and communities.
- Relevant authorities should identify a key internal contact person responsible for managing asset transfer requests. This would help to speed-up the asset transfer request process, act as an effective conduit between community transfer bodies and relevant authority personnel, drive culture change in relevant authorities and allow other relevant authority personnel to focus on other responsibilities.
- To address concerns surrounding assets becoming derelict or burdens on communities, relevant authorities should undertake work to promote clearer agreements, ensure understanding of long-term responsibilities associated with running an asset and assess group capacity to deliver.
- Relevant authorities should work with key stakeholders to address challenges associated with quantifying community benefit and calculating the level of discount to offer to communities. Ensuring that ‘best value’ assessments are explicitly related to addressing inequalities may reduce barriers to participation for disadvantaged communities.
- Relevant authorities should encourage groups from marginalised communities to consider whether asset transfer requests could benefit them. Activities could include active promotion of Part 5 of the Act and developing tailored, accessible support (translations and easy-read documents where appropriate, for example).
The evaluation suggests that asset transfer requests may help to address inequalities and support communities to deliver better and more appropriate services. To maximise the impacts of asset transfer requests, and to achieve the longer-term changes in community empowerment envisaged by the Act, government and relevant authorities need to take further steps to promote and support asset transfer requests – focusing on less-advantaged communities in particular – and to continue to improve monitoring and tracking of the results.
This study was conducted using available quantitative data. Due to limited reporting by relevant authorities, our findings may not reveal the full picture of asset transfer request activity in Scotland. Qualitative data derive from a limited sample. While steps were taken to ensure that the sample had a breadth of knowledge and experience of asset transfer requests, the findings reported here may not represent the full range of perspectives on asset transfer requests.