November 15th saw the launch of ResPublica's latest report, "To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy”
co-authored by its Director, Phillip Blond, and Development Trusts Association Director, Steve Wyler, in association with NESTA.
The publication highlights 10 simple strategies for enabling individuals and community groups to join together to purchase under-performing assets the Government plans to sell off and transform these into revitalised, community-owned enterprises. "To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy” follows on from two of ResPublica's earlier publications, "The Ownership State
" and "The Venture Society
", which highlight how democratising access to assets will help redress the inequality that currently characterises the UK.
Following a welcome by Stian Westlake, Policy Director at NESTA, the event kicked off with a speech by The Rt Hon Greg Clark MP, Minister for Decentralisation, who began by praising “ResPublica's phenomenal productivity and influence on the thinking of the new Government”. He went on to note that being able to purchase and manage assets has the same beneficial effects for communities in terms of confidence and capability building as it does in the personal sphere for private individuals. He added that the upcoming Localism Bill would put flesh on the bones of the Report's recommendations by enshrining communities' 'right to know' about monies currently being disbursed by local authorities on managing community assets. This expansion of consumer rights in the private sector to community groups would, he went on to say, help the latter bid successfully to run these assets themselves, dismantling in the process entrenched local authority monopolies.
Next up was Steve Wyler, joint author of the Report, and Director of the Development Trusts Association
, who cited copious examples from around the country of buildings and land being successfully taken into community ownership; he described this as a nationwide 'entrepreneurial movement'. He added by way of historical context that this local self-determination movement has roots stretching back to Thomas Spence's vision for localism penned in the 1790s and Chartist Fergus O'Connor's creation of a National Land Bank to fund dwellings in five model villages for the urban poor fifty years later. This was followed by a brief overview of the 10 policy recommendations made in “To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy”, which in combination, would bring about the level of asset redistribution necessary to create a fairer society. He concluded with the caveat that, to be successful, the current resurgence of the assertion of community rights must be backed by enabling structures at national level.
Phillip Blond then discussed the crucial role of community rights in reversing the current massive inequalities in asset distribution in the UK, whereby the bottom 25% of the population owns just 1% of the total wealth and, in terms of liquid capital, the bottom 50% owns just 1%. He went on to say that enabling communities to bid for, buy and run local enterprises was one of three core strategies aimed at breaking open markets, the other two being Pathways to Work, which would enable local people on benefits to work in local enterprises and keep more of the money they earn, and the extension to community social enterprises of opportunities to bid for public sector contracts, the majority of which currently go to monopoly private sector providers at regional and national level.
The floor was then taken by two guest presenters who described the challenges which their enterprises, respectively small and large scale, had faced in their endeavours to take underperforming public assets into community ownership. Priya Thamoteram, Head of the Highfields Centre
in Leicester described how his group's 14-year struggle with the "dead weight of local authority” had had cost £60,000 in legal fees alone. He was followed by Charlie Elphicke, the recently-elected MP for Dover and Deal, who is leading the attempt by local townspeople to bid for the Dover Port Authority as an alternative to embattled £300m privatisation plans. Backed by a Board whose members include numerous City heavyweights, he sees the success of the effort as critical to restoring Dover to its former glory. He finished off by praising "To Buy, To Bid, To Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy” as “one of the most important papers I have read in the past 10 years”.