Community Asset Transfer (CAT)

Community Asset Transfer 01What is CAT?

Local authorities have the power to transfer land and buildings to community and voluntary sector organisations at less than market value where they are able to demonstrate that doing so will result in local improvements to social, economic or environmental well-being. Three-quarters of councils are now estimated to be actively engaged in CAT.

CAT is government policy

The Labour government piloted CAT in 2008 with its Advancing Assets for Communities programme. Birmingham participated with two CATs: Norton Hall and Perry Common Community Centre. The Coalition government funds CATs through the Asset Transfer Unit, providing detailed information about how communities can express an interest in taking over a publicly owned asset in their local area to one-third of all Councils.

The government’s rationale for CAT is that it:

• empowers communities

• provides more effective and sustainable services because they are based on what the community wants

• builds a civic community culture

• saves money (including by reduced staffing and the use of volunteers)

CAT in Birmingham

BCC has a CAT website which was developed as part of Birmingham City Council’s

Community Asset Transfer Development Programme in 2009-10, funded by AWM.

In Birmingham CAT means:

• Transfer of buildings and / or land

• Leasehold not freehold – generally on a full repairing lease and up to 25yrs (negotiable)

• Economic Rent offset by Valuing Worth

• to bona fide “not for profit” community organisations (not for commercial profit making purposes but community benefit)

Examples in Birmingham include Hutton Hall in Washwood Heath, Norton Hall and Perry Common Community Centre. But with the current cuts the number is set to expand.

Birmingham has a CAT Protocol and Way of Working:

BATC’s response to CAT

There are two issues: the cuts and democracy.

Of course what drives the Council’s CAT agenda today isn’t ‘community empowerment’ for its own sake, it’s the cuts. They aim to save money by cutting the staff employed, the funding for activities, and the cost of upkeep and refurbishment – either to zero, or to a minimum. This means that community groups will need either to replace paid council staff by volunteers, adding to the unemployment figures, or raise charges, or both. And it means they may well inherit premises which need money spending on them – again, volunteer labour and higher charges.

We recognise that CAT can appeal to local community residents and organisations because it can give them direct management control over a local community facility. It contrasts with the top-down bureaucratic control by the Council that is often people’s experience. We strongly support democratic management of local public facilities by the local community. It can foster collective community spirit and democratic self-organisation. But community management is not the same as community ownership, and we are strongly against the ownership of local facilities being transferred by the Council to other bodies, however democratic they are. Retaining ownership by the Council means they are always in the public domain and under the control of and accountable to elected local government.

Once ownership is handed over to another body that public accountability to the whole community of Birmingham is lost, and however democratic and public-spirited a CAT body is today, there is no guarantee that tomorrow it may change, and perhaps fall into the hands of an unrepresentative clique who seek to deny the community its use or to use or sell the facility for private profit.

So, in short:

• say no to Community Asset Transfer

• keep facilities in the ownership of the council,

• properly maintained, funded and staffed by council workers

• but managed democratically by the local community in partnership with staff

CAT as part of a wider government strategy

Why is the government promoting CATS? CATs need to be seen as just one method for removing public services from local authorities and from other state service providers such as the NHS and turning them into what are called social enterprises. While one aim is to cut public spending, this is both an end in in itself and a means to two other ends: to shrink the state as a provider of public services and to create markets.

According to Social Enterprise UK, ‘Social enterprises are businesses that exist primarily for a social or environmental purpose.’ A social enterprise reinvests its profits, not makes profits for shareholders like a commercial business. Social enterprises can have a variety of legal structures: most commonly a company limited by guarantee (which may be a registered charity) or an Industrial and Provident Society (which may be a cooperative existing for the benefit of its members). A CAT body could be either of these.

Social enterprises as vehicles for the provision of public services were initiated by the Labour government. A Right to Request scheme was launched by the Department of Health in 2008 to enable frontline Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) to establish social enterprises to take over the provision of clinical and support services.

The Coalition government has accelerated the promotion of social enterprises to deliver public services. They launched a successor programme to Labour’s Right to Request, the Right to Provide, in 2010. 47 social enterprises were established between 2010 and June 2012, all but 3 in health and social care, involving over 20,000 staff, with a further 37 in development.

The Coalition’s key policy document is the 2013 Open Public Services white paper which envisages the marketisation of public services with the state as the commissioner not the provider, and delivery to be in the hands of private companies where profitable and the voluntary sector and social enterprises where not profitable enough. The white paper was followed by the Localism Act in 2011, which included the Community Right to Challenge under which community organisations or employees could take over local authority provision.

One form of social enterprise promoted by government is mutuals. According to the Cabinet Office Mutuals Information Service ‘A public service mutual is an organisation which has left the public sector (also known as ‘spinning out’) but continues to deliver public services. Mutuals are organisations in which employee control plays a significant role in their operation.’ This is the rhetoric but in reality most so-called mutuals are run by a management body, not by employees.

It’s a neo-liberal policy but clothed in the rhetoric of employee and community empowerment. It is claimed that delivering public services by social enterprises frees them from the constraints of state bureaucracy and stimulates innovation through a combination of market incentives and social entrepreneurship, harmonising social and economic imperatives.

The government has three strategies to create this market sector: pull, push and drive:

• Pull services out of state provision by the community via Right to Challenge

• Push them out by employees – mutuals

• Drive them out by cuts

The result is a spectrum of privatisation strategies. At one extreme are selling public services outright, contracting out, public-private partnerships and joint ventures – creating a market for private profit. At the other extreme is handing services which aren’t profitable over to unpaid volunteers (as in ‘Stand Up for Birmingham’). This saves money, reduces the state but doesn’t create a market. In between are social enterprises – non-profit making but usually income generating and therefore partly or wholly financially self-funding. They may create a competitive market or quasi-market in a sector which is not commercially profitable enough to attract private companies.
Community Asset Transfer 02
One example of a social enterprise in Birmingham is Services for Schools – S4E – which was created by the Council a year and a half ago as a charitable company entirely separate and independent from the council, which then transferred to it three school support services, including Music and Health Education. This could well be the model for future services in the city.



My Community Rights

Understanding Community Asset Transfer

The Asset Transfer Unit (ATU)

Empowering communities: making the most of local assets A councillors’ guide 2012

For a critique see:

Whitfield D (2012) The Mutation of Privatisation A critical assessment of new community and individual rights. Tralee: Ireland. European Services Strategy Unit.


Community Asset Transfer in Birmingham

Birmingham’s CAT Protocol and Way of Working


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Le Grand review – the marketisation and outsourcing of children’s social care is the aim

“ The game’s out there, and it’s play or get played. That simple”

Omar Little

Forget Birmingham’s children, the Le Grand review of Birmingham’s failing children’s social care department is part of a bigger national political game and Birmingham’s failings are Michael Gove’s opportunities.

Gove set out his agenda last November when he stated ‘I believe that we have not been either systematic, radical or determined enough in our efforts to reform the system of children’s social care in this country.’ (1) Going on to question why Children’s social care services needed to be provided by local councils.

All the better that Birmingham is a high profile Labour controlled council, that has been politically hamstrung by it’s failure to prioritise and improve services to vulnerable children in the city while simultaneously cutting them.

The well documented difficulties of social care services in the city over more than a ten year period and failure to adequately safeguard children have allowed the Government to appoint a Review Team whose brief included making proposals for alternative arrangements for delivering these critical services.

The Review has been led by Prof Julian Le Grand, and while nominally independent Le Grand has impeccable neo-liberal credentials as a champion of independent Social Work practices under the last New Labour Government and an exponent of competition and market forces within public provision.

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Underfunded safeguarding services leaves unidentified children at risk

A shortfall of resources has been identified as a critical issue in the Le Grand Review of children’s social care services in Birmingham which was published last week.

The independent review was appointed by the Government in November to report on the ability of the Council to make improvements to it’s safeguarding services after being rated as inadequate by repeated OFSTED inspections since 2009.

The underfunding of child social care in the city is identified as a likely factor affecting the relatively low rate of child protection referrals into the Department.

The report raises a current concern that there are a significant number of young people in need of protection who have not been referred to the council, what the report calls at ‘unidentified risk’.

The Reviewer’s compared the rates of referral and safeguarding activity between different council’s and found that there are a lower number of active child protection cases in Birmingham than should be expected.

In Birmingham the rate of child protection enquiries per 10,000 children for 2013 was 107.5 compared to the national average of 111.5. This rate of referral would also be expected to be higher in Birmingham due to the higher proportion of local children living in poverty and in low income families in the city.

The review authors raise the possibility that Birmingham has developed a high threshold criteria to cope with the under resourcing of safeguarding service.

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Filed under Birmingham City Council, Cuts

Take Part In Boycott Workfare Week Of Action This Week

Boycott Workfare 3rd March 03Next week sees a week of action against workfare, as the government introduces the harshest forced labour scheme yet seen – “community work placements”. These placements are full time, lasting for 6 months and build upon the failure of the “Community Action Programme” pilot scheme which had no effect on the chances of someone finding work.

Workfare is the system whereby unemployed and disabled people are forced to work for charities, community organisations and companies under threat of having their benefits stopped entirely for up to three years for unemployed people and losing 70% of their benefits indefinitely for disabled people.

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Bedroom Tax Demo – 5th April – One Year On

bbj bedroom tax logoHated, unjust and unworkable. One year on the Bedroom Tax is still there – but only just. Campaigning locally and nationally has had an effect.

* In Scotland the Tax has been defeated.

* Pressure has meant the Labour Party has promised they will abolish the tax.

* Birmingham City Council has admitted 3000 people in long term tenancies had benefits taken away in error and they will be given a rebate.

*Court cases have ruled in favour of disabled couples having separate rooms if they wish, and in favour of separated parents needing a room for visiting children, and that a room must be in use as a bedroom to count as a bedroom. These cases could see hundreds of thousands given rebates due to unlawfully having their benefit cut

Protest for benefit justice

Saturday 5th April

1:00pm, Waterstones, High St, City Centre

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Spring Hill Library Victory


Councillors at the Ladywood District Committee announced they had dropped plans to close Spring Hill Library due to the strength of opposition shown by the local community.
This is a stunning victory for campaigners who have been collecting names for their petition, organising public meetings, and lobbying councillors over the last two months. The petition against closure of Spring Hill obtained 2500 signatories, most collected next to the checkouts in Tesco.

The District Committee said that savings would be found elsewhere, and this raises the danger of moving other facilities into the Library building and reducing the library services, as well as further cuts to play centres or neighbourhood officers.
We say the District Committee should defy the council cabinet and set a district budget that protects all existing services under their control. this is the least which Ladywood deserves.
All power to the campaigners and the community for achieving the lifting of the closure threat. It shows once again that cuts can be defeated if the determination is there.


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Campaigners protest as Labour Cuts Budget is approved

A large and noisy protest greeted councillors as they arrived for Tuesdays budget setting meeting. Campaigners from Birmingham against the Cuts, Communities against the Cuts, Disabled People against the Cuts, Black Activists Rising against the Cuts, Benefit Justice Campaign, Handsworth against the Cuts, and Friends of the Libraries of Birmingham were joined by UNISON and UNITE activists, and delegations from local campaigns over Laurel Road leisure centre, Tiverton Road baths, Moseley Road baths, and Spring Hill Library.
Speakers condemned the £85 million cuts as being targeted at all the most vulnerable groups in the city, the jobless, the young, the old and the disabled, contrary to Albert Bore’s promise to protect them.
The privatisation of adult services will leave both users and care workers at the mercy of unscrupulous private providers. The replacement of many trained workers with volunteers will leave users with a less reliable and inferior service.
Mark Jastrzenski from the Spring Hill library campaign stressed that the voluntary sector was already at full stretch and could not take on the role of full time trained staff.
Robert Brenchley from the Benefit Justice Campaign said that it was a scandal that even as the Bedroom Tax collapses Birmingham City Council still refuses to reclassify rooms or promise no evictions for bedroom tax arrears. A fight back would require building new organisations to challenge the austerity policies of the three main parties.
Godfrey Webster from BATC said that faced with another £200 million cut next year the only sensible choice for the council was to call a halt to cuts, set a deficit budget, organise a mass campaign with all the other big industrial cities, and challenge the government to dare send in commissioners to run all these cities in the face of organised obstruction.
Later anger in the public gallery boiled over as Albert Bore presented his budget and several protesters were roughly manhandled and evicted by security staff. The budget was approved against Tory and LibDem opposition, but with no labour councillors breaking ranks.IMG_0256



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