Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015: asset transfer requests - evaluation

Findings from an independent evaluation assessing the implementation of Part 5 of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 – asset transfer requests. The evaluation was commissioned by the Scottish Government and was conducted by researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University.

5. Implementation of asset transfer requests

This section focuses on the implementation of asset transfer requests, considering whether, how and to what extent Part 5 of the Act is being implemented as intended in the legislation and guidance. Specifically, this section considers progress made by relevant authorities since the introduction of Part 5 of the Act and reports on the challenges of implementation. Finally, it identifies actions taken to promote awareness and provide support, particularly to disadvantaged groups.

5.1. Processes and challenges within relevant authorities

All relevant authorities within the sample were employing guidance documents and legislation to support the design of the asset transfer request process. Some relevant authorities had existing processes in place to transfer assets to communities developed prior to the introduction of the Act and were working to incorporate the new legislation to ensure compliance. Other relevant authorities had no existing processes in place and were working to introduce new procedures in-line with the legislation. In some cases, developed processes and procedures, including assessment templates and matrices, were tested on early asset transfer requests and, where necessary, steps had been taken to review the processes developed.

One of the challenges highlighted by relevant authority stakeholders was the lack of sufficient resources to support and raise awareness of the Act. The reasons for this varied across different types of organisations. Some relevant authority stakeholders, for example, suggested that resource allocations should relate to the core purpose of the organisation: when considering asset transfer requests, an educational relevant authority sought to prioritise delivery of community-based education, for instance.

Conversely, a representative from a national asset transfer support organisation highlighted that despite reduced resources, a number of relevant authorities have committed to supporting asset transfer requests. At the same time, other relevant authorities, facing the reduction of community learning and development (CLD) teams, indicated that limited resources constrain opportunities to work closely with communities on initiatives such as asset transfer requests.

“The level of service across support services for community groups across the country is mixed. So, in some areas it’s been quite extensive support. So, in [relevant authority] for example they pulled together a team from across the [relevant authority]. That was before the Community Empowerment Act and that team continues to support community groups. [There are] other areas where there is very little support on the ground. Some of the local authorities have retained their community learning and development teams. Others are just a shadow of their former selves.” (Key Stakeholder)

It is possible that an outcome of relevant authorities being overstretched, with fewer opportunities to engage with communities, explains interviewee comments surrounding how well relevant authorities understand the Act.

“We were the ones that were telling the council how the Act operated. We had to bring to their attention that there was a process it was laying down. If we just worked our way through the process, everything would be alright. So, they didn’t even know… the officials’ ignorance of the Act was unbelievable. They were just making things up or omitting.” (CTB 2)

Another challenge associated with the implementation of Part 5 of the Act was reflected in misunderstandings about the purpose of asset transfer requests. Relevant authority stakeholders highlighted that, among some community groups, asset transfer requests were perceived as means through which organisations can buy assets at a low cost:

“The other misconception that’s out there is that it’s a free property giveaway.” (RA 3)

“There’s this perception that asset transfer is a cheap way to buy assets.” (RA 9)

“It shouldn’t be a case of everybody just gets everything for one pound… everybody thinks they should get it for one pound.” (RA 4)

This perception – that asset transfer request is a route through which to gain free or ‘cheap’ assets – represented a challenge for some relevant authorities as they sought to alter the perception of asset transfer requests amongst relevant stakeholders. However, this was not the case across the entire sample: two interviewees stated that, in practice, there was no evidence of this happening:

“I’m not being overrun by folk thinking, ‘here’s a way to get an asset on the cheap’, so I’m heartened by that.” (RA 1)

5.2. Developing assessment processes

The asset transfer request process requires a two stage decision-making process: firstly, the decision to accept or refuse an asset transfer request and, secondly, a decision about what level of discount should be offered to a community in order to purchase the asset (i.e. ‘best value’). Learning between relevant authorities was a key part of implementing asset transfer request policy; while one relevant authority relied on independent surveyors to provide an asset valuation, several of the stakeholders had made use of a scoring matrix developed by Forestry Enterprise[17] which aided certain aspects of decision-making. Specifically, the matrix had provided relevant authorities with a transparent process for assessing whether to accept or refuse an asset transfer request. However, relevant authorities said that they found basing decisions on ‘best value’ considerations to be a far more complex process. The Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017)[18] was considered moderately helpful and referenced throughout discussions with relevant authority stakeholders. Nevertheless, relevant authorities felt that greater clarity on aspects of best value assessment is required:

“There’s some bits of it when it [the Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests] gets into best value and financial considerations. It’s quite complicated and quite confused, and I found it quite difficult to take all that advice and guidance and actually come up with, ‘okay, how do you do it in practice’, because … it talks around the issues but it doesn’t really give you anything to work on and that’s where I’ve definitely benefited from the structure put in place for asset transfer in Forest Enterprise.” (RA 9)

Although the guidelines for best value as outlined in the Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017) were the basis for the scoring matrices used by all relevant authorities, respondents felt that more specific examples would assist relevant authorities in the decision-making process. Given their experience and high level of engagement with asset transfer requests, Forestry Enterprise participated in a Community Ownership Support Service (COSS) event which was thereafter cited by a number of relevant authority stakeholders when developing their own decision-making processes. Some relevant authorities within the sample have taken a different approach from Forestry Enterprise[19].

One particular difficulty highlighted by all the relevant authorities in the sample was the complexity of the best value assessment and the need to quantify community benefits in order to decide the level of discount offered to community transfer bodies. For example, one relevant authority noted the longer-term impacts that asset transfer request might deliver and how that might be calculated in the short term:

“I’ve got an asset value, let’s say it’s £50,000 for this asset, they want it for £1…so I need to see what the benefits are and I need to try and score that in some mechanism, and it’s difficult. That is the most difficult part. It’s how do you score health and wellbeing? Some say, ‘No, but it’ll be good for the community because they’re offering a healthy option’, or something like that, a ‘healthier option’. Okay, but how do I score that? Is it a case of life expectancy is going to increase in [name of community] because of what these guys are doing? When am I going to find that out? I’m not going to find that out now. I’m going to find… I might find that out in 20 or 30 years… so it’s difficult for me to score that.” (RA 4)

Indeed, among the relevant authority participants, there was recognition that best value is not ‘necessarily financial’; rather, it must take into account added value and long-term benefits ‘for everybody’ (RA 3). One relevant authority, RA 10, used the best value assessment as a mechanism through which communities are encouraged to consider the ways in which their asset transfer request might seek to address inequalities. In assessing the level of a discount offered, RA 10 highlighted ways in which an asset transfer request could offer an opportunity to deliver services to marginalised or deprived communities:

“If communities want a discount, it’s like [they should] demonstrate social benefit… So, for example, with [Community A] they’re saying ‘people with mental health benefits using the woodland is a good thing’. Yes, it is, but there’s lots of woodlands around there and people would use that woodland anyway. If you were working with a mental health project in [Community B (relatively more deprived)] with a specific programme of getting people out that wouldn’t otherwise get out into the forest, that’s the sort of thing you would look at a discount for. So, I do literally make that point and that is where Best Value comes in, in terms of tackling inequality… but, yes, I don’t feel too bad about not giving [Community A] a great big discount because this is a nice project but you are not addressing social injustice here.” (RA 10)

5.3. Promoting awareness and providing support for asset transfer requests

The Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017) provided to relevant authorities states that it should be ‘easy for community bodies to get information about the scheme and that all relevant officers are aware of it and can direct enquiries to the appropriate team’ (Scottish Government, 2017, p.25). Relevant authorities have done this through a variety of means, discussed in this section.

All relevant authorities in the sample were taking steps to promote awareness of asset transfer requests. Information pertaining to promotion and support activities was included in the reports submitted by relevant authorities for the period 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 (Table 10). Note that the data presented here is based only on the annual reports submitted by relevant authorities (submission rates presented at Sections 4.1.1 and 4.1.2).

Table 10 Promotion activities reported by relevant authorities
Promotion activity Number of relevant authorities reporting activity
2017-2018 2018-2019
Website 18 19
Publication of asset register 13 8
First point of contact for asset transfer requests 15 7
Internal training for RA staff 0 3
External information events 20 2
External training for public/ stakeholders 0 2
Internal information events 10 0

Online information appears to be the most common form of promotion and support. Relevant authority websites included links to Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017), procedures and policies specific to the relevant authority and links to information offered by COSS. In addition, many websites provide information on already completed asset transfer requests. Across both periods, the publication of asset registers was commonly adopted to promote asset transfer requests. In 2017-2018, 13 relevant authorities published asset registers. In 2018-2019, only eight relevant authorities stated that they had published an asset register. However, from viewing websites, it is evident that this number is much higher than reported. Examples of external information sessions included co-hosted events with third sector agencies and events as part of Community Land Scotland Week. Examples of internal information sessions included sharing best practice within teams and across relevant authorities and regular meetings for feedback and learning on asset transfer request processes.

Other forms of support within the Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017) (e.g. the provision of ‘sales packs’[20], sharing the cost of producing or commissioning new information, facilitating access to the site) were not reported by relevant authorities as being adopted to promote or raise awareness of asset transfer requests. Alongside specific information and awareness raising, five relevant authorities stated that they had held either internal or external training events. Examples included an e-learning module for citizens; organised training with relevant support agencies e.g. COSS; and relevant authority stakeholders’ attendance at externally organised training events.

In 2018-2019, five relevant authorities submitted reports that included details of consultations and reviews undertaken or planned in relation to asset transfer request policies and processes. These included a survey of the organisations that have submitted asset transfer requests and stakeholder consultation events. A further example of how one relevant authority in the sample has committed to supporting asset transfer requests is the establishment of a Community Empowerment Fund. The purpose of the fund is ‘to support the development of community organisations and build their capacity to undertake potential asset transfers’. The fund can be used to support the development of business plans for assets; develop the capacity of community organisations to manage and develop assets; and provide upfront investment in assets prior to or after transfer[21].

5.4. Equalities and disadvantaged groups

One of the key objectives of the Act is to increase the participation of marginalised and disadvantaged groups. In their evaluability assessment, Myers et al. (2017) conclude that, if additional support is not provided to disadvantaged communities, asset transfer requests have the potential to exacerbate inequalities because more-advantaged communities will be better placed to utilise the provisions within the Act. As such, the Scottish Government is interested to explore the effect of asset transfer requests on inequalities. In order to do this the research team has looked at what the data can tell us about the pattern of take up and use of asset transfer requests among different community groups, and the resulting potential impacts on local inequalities.

Within the relevant authority annual reports, there were no references to inequalities in relevant authorities’ approaches to promotion and support of asset transfer requests. However, this does not mean that no specific work is being carried out in relation to supporting marginalised communities to submit asset transfer requests. In line with the Scottish Government Guidance on asset transfer requests (2017), some reports made reference to the asset transfer request assessment criteria which include consideration of whether the request is likely to reduce inequalities of outcome.

The mapping of asset transfer requests against SIMD deciles set out in Section 4.5 indicates that asset transfer requests are being made across all SIMD deciles, and that they are being used more frequently by groups in the highest deprivation deciles than in the lowest deprivation deciles. While this does not tell us about inequalities of outcome, it does suggest that less-advantaged communities are actively using the provisions in the Act, and that asset transfer activity is not being concentrated in areas of higher advantage.



Back to top