During the past weeks, Plunkett has published our longstanding annual report on the state of the community-owned shop sector to coincide with Community Co-operatives Fortnight.  We have also published our second report on developments in the co-operative pub sector. Thank you to all the people who completed the surveys and took the time to respond.

The reason we write these reports is to help new community groups, plus existing enterprises, to understand how the sectors overall are evolving.

Some headlines:

  • The community shop sector is outperforming major retailers, both in terms of store openings and like for like sales.
  • 95% of community shops, and 100% of co-operative pubs to open are still open.  A significantly better survival rate then the bosses of the major supermarket chains over the past year!
  • Both community shops and co-operative pubs for the first time have identified the number of vulnerable people they know their enterprise supports.  The total is 18,800, or the full Wimbledon Centre Court plus Murray Mound combined.  This is likely to be a considerable under-estimation too.
  • Both forms are now raising significant capital from their local community, with co-operative pubs raising around £6m in community shares alone.

Across the two reports, we have a number of recommendations. Here are a few:

  • Shop and pub closures are going to continue to happen, and we and others need to work harder to help a greater proportion of these communities to save these community assets.  This is going to need support organisations to work in different ways with funders, local government and national governments.
  • The Community Right to Bid in England has provided to be a powerful tool for some communities, but needs to be stronger, and have less loopholes to make a bigger difference to more communities.  The Community Right to Bid is being reviewed this summer and should be stronger, and the Welsh Government is consulting on whether to introduce a similar power. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill is in the final stages, and could assist some groups too.
  • The planning system offers pubs limited protection in England and Wales, unless English pubs are listed as Assets of Community Value.  We call the planning system to ensure that a proper process of community engagement is gone through before such assets are granted change of use, when this is required.
  • The majority of community shops and co-operative pubs benefit from some form of business rates relief.  We call on these reliefs to remain, and for national government to ensure local government retain extensive rates relief for community led businesses, and introduce discounts for businesses run from assets listed as Assets of Community Value.
  • The role of such enterprises in supporting vulnerable people in their communities have largely gone unnoticed.  Both enterprises, and organisations like Plunkett need to do more to help explain these wide ranging social impacts and the improvements they make to people’s lives.

Read A Better Form of Business – Co-operative Pubs

Read A Better Form of Business – Community Shops

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Now the election is over, we can get down to business. The Conservative Party Manifesto has the following commitments specifically relevant to Plunkett’s work, most of them centred around pubs.  A number of these centre around their commitment to strengthen the Community Right to Bid in England.

There is a commitment to extend the length of the protected period that communities have under the Community Right to Bid.   Currently this is 6 months.  Plunkett would like to see this extended to a minimum of 10 months, the average time it takes for a community pub buyout.

They have also committed to requiring asset owners to set a clear ‘reserve’ price for the community to aim for when bidding.  This has been a regular problem for community groups, and has been a particular problem with community pub buyouts due to lack of planning protection meaning that owners have placed high development values on pub buildings.

They have also committed to set up a Pubs Loan Fund, to enable groups to obtain small loans to pay for some of the initial costs like legal fees and feasibility costs.  We’d like to see this being a small grant programme, operated on a similar basis to a bursary scheme we have run with the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.  This scheme has enabled groups to pay for some very early costs that can prevent many communities from progressing.  Groups we have worked with have paid for valuations, community consultation costs, legal costs, campaign website development, legal registration and much more.

We’d also like to see more done to ensure the Community Right to Bid helps more groups looking to save their local shop.  Far fewer village shops have been registered as Assets of Community Value, and the Community Right to Bid isn’t useful currently for the 60% of community shops that are not based in a previous shop.

In connected news, the Welsh Government has launched a consultation on protecting community assets, seeking views for how and if to implement an equivalent Community Right to Bid.

These commitments will be the responsibility of Marcus Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government after it was decided to unite the responsibilities for Community Rights and community pubs under one Minister for the first time, something we welcome.

We also welcomed the news that Rory Stewart MP has been appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Environment and Rural Affairs at Defra. Rory Stewart has been a strong supporter of community action in rural areas and has co-operative pubs, a Community Land Trust and community broadband operators in his rural constituency.

Don’t miss Plunkett’s annual event!

If you haven’t already booked, we’d love to see you at our National Community Co-operative Networking Event and AGM, which is taking place on 25 June at Dunchurch in Warwickshire.  More info here.

This week the Communities and Local Government Committee published its report from their inquiry into the Community Rights in England.  I’m pleased to say the Committee backed Plunkett’s call to strengthen the Community Rights to help make it easier for communities to save their shop, pub and everything else of importance to them.

We warmly welcome the report and its recommendations, which will assist the Government in their review of the Community Rights this summer.  Overall Plunkett welcomed the introduction of the Community Rights, and they have in many communities provided useful tools, particularly the Community Right to Bid and Asset of Community Value status.  However there is clear evidence from communities attempting to use the powers for the purposes they were developed that they need to be strengthened.

Below are pictures of The Lord Nelson, a pub in Dunholme, Lincolnshire, that was registered as an Asset of Community Value and as you’ll see from the subsequent photo, was demolished.

The Committee’s recommendations, which Plunkett has called for, include:

Increasing the period that communities have to save Assets of Community Value from 6 months to 9 months.  It was a universal call from community sector bodies including Plunkett that 6 months is not long enough.

Promote the Community Rights widely, as too many communities do not know about them, and those that do often do not have a working knowledge of how they can be used.  They also call for community groups to be supported to help groups.

Remove the permitted development exemption for assets registered as Assets of Community Value which can assist with, for example, pubs being converted into supermarkets, or in some cases demolished despite being listed. Around two pubs per week are being converted to supermarkets.

Encourage councils to use the powers at their disposal to make pro-community decisions by developing a compensation fund that councils can use to de-risk their use of existing powers, like Article 4 Directions.

It has also called for a complete overhaul of the Community Right to Build, to better support community led action like Community Land Trusts, and significant changes to the Community Right to Challenge.

Read the full report here.

Linked to the issues in the report last week the Department for Communities and Local Government announced plans to introduce secondary legislation that would remove permitted development rights for pubs that are listed as Assets of Community Value.  This is welcome news when this is in place.  We’d like to see permitted development rights removed for all pubs, to stem the tide of pubs closures in town and country and to better support the growing wave of community groups wanting to save their local pub.

Read the full announcement here.

Plunkett works with groups of organisations including the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Supporters Direct, Civic Voice and the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) to raise awareness and understanding of the community rights. My colleague Tom Carman has written a post about the work of the Localism Alliance which I wanted to share.

 

Since 2011, groups of local people have been able to register ‘assets’ important to them as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ or ACV.  Doing this allows for the pause of sale of buildings or land important to communities, giving 6 months for a community to develop a bid to buy that asset. Since the launch of Assets of Community Value there have been over 1,800 ACV nominations in England, including over 550 pubs and various other assets including village shops and car parks.

Plunkett, along with other members of the Localism Alliance, are making 5 calls to action to improve ACV legislation. When working with communities attempting to save assets important to them, the Localism Alliance has come across the following issues that need to be considered.

1. Despite many pubs being registered as ACVs, communities often end up with supermarkets, as pubs are in the same asset classification as supermarkets, offices and restaurants. Also, in some cases, pubs listed as ACVs have been demolished.  We are calling for permitted development rights to be removed for assets that are registered as ACVs.
2. Asset owners can find it difficult to see the benefits of registration, and nomination of assets can sometimes cause friction between asset owners and their communities. We are therefore recommending that assets registered as ACVs benefit from a business rate reduction to reflect the importance of the asset to the local community.
3. The protected period of six months has proved too short a time period for many communities, particularly where raising significant capital is needed. We are calling for the moratorium period under the Right to Bid to be extended from six to ten months, as ten months is the average time it takes to complete a community pub buyout.
4. Some local authorities need to do more to protect assets listed as ACVs when considering planning applications. We recommend that guidance is issued to local authorities on ACV nominations being a material consideration in planning applications and also for local authorities to use existing powers they have, for example issuing an Article 4 Direction that can remove permitted development rights.
5. Applicants who are turned down for listing cannot appeal the situation, but asset owners can appeal their asset being listed. We are calling for a right to appeal for communities to be introduced.

We think that these five actions would help increase the use of ACV, make the ACV process more robust and help more rural people take on and manage their local shops and pubs – do you agree? If you have any stories you would like to share about making an ACV nomination or comments about the Localism Alliance’s calls to action, we would be really interested to hear from you. Please get in touch with Tom Carman at tom.carman@plunkett.co.uk

Here is a round-up of what we have been up to in the policy world at Plunkett during the last month.

We’re delighted to be part of the team offering support ahead of the launch of Power to Change later this year. Find out more and get involved here.

This week is National Countryside Week and as part of the week, we were delighted to be awarded funding to help more rural communities by the Prince’s Countryside Fund. Read more about the fantastic work of the Prince’s Countryside Fund here.

Reshuffle fever hits Westminster

Reshuffles are of great interest to policy wonks like myself. Ministers come and go but for us involved in policy work, reshuffles can slow progress down as their teams wait for them to get their feet under the desks. They can provide opportunities to progress ideas in different ways but they are not always welcome. It has been a positive that so few reshuffles have taken place, allowing organisations like us to get to understand Ministers and for them to understand their brief. Reshuffles affecting Plunkett’s area of work are:

  • Liz Truss replacing Owen Patterson at Defra Secretary of State.
  • Brooks Newmark replacing Nick Hurd as Civil Society Minister

We look forward to working with them both.

Full list of changes here.

First report on co-operative pubs

We were really proud to launch our first co-operative pubs report this month in the House of Commons. To celebrate with a glass of beer from the community-owned co-operative brewery in Hesket Newmarket made it all the sweeter. The report was intended as a celebration of co-operative pubs but it also needed to raise some important issues that we feel need addressing. The powers available to communities (such as registering Assets of Community Value in England) are really positive but need strengthening. We recommend for example that the protected period is extended from 6 months to 10 months, the average time it takes to take over a pub. We also recommend that a separate asset class for pubs is needed in the planning system to stop valued pubs being lost to supermarkets, offices, restaurants and in some cases, demolished. We also recommended that registering an asset removes permitted development rights, helping communities to fight unreasonable values placed on pubs by speculative property developers. Lastly, we felt that something needs to be done to encourage local authorities to use the significant powers already at their disposal. Currently these powers are rarely used due to concerns about potential compensation. We recommend that a risk fund is established to give councils the confidence to best support communities looking to save their local. Many of our findings have been backed up by a new report by LGiU commissioned by CAMRA.

Community shops outperform supermarkets again

The community shop sector continues to thrive despite aggressive completion, the rise of home deliveries and the pressure on household budgets. Once again community shops are outperforming the major supermarkets in terms of growth and like for like sales. It proves again that community shops can compete as businesses, alongside providing a huge range of wider social benefits to individuals in their community. Read more in our new report on the state of the community shop sector.

Raising a glass to common ground

The Department for Communities and Local Government convened a meeting on the future for community pubs involving people like us and CAMRA alongside some representatives of the pubs industry like the British Beer and Pub Association. We ran through our new report on co-operative pubs and some of the key issues it highlighted. We found a great deal of common ground. We raised the issue that some pub owners, including pub companies and breweries, we’re reluctant to speak to community groups interested in purchasing pubs they were selling. We also discussed a lack of understanding of community buy outs and offered to attend meetings of regional managers to explain more. We also found some common ground on the need to get on to a positive agenda when talking about registering Assets of Community Value. We’ll keep you informed how these issues progress.

Growing Livelihoods interest rising

We’ve published a film and booklet to help people to know a little more about the Growing Livelihoods work that we are undertaking with the Carnegie UK Trust and the LSA Charitable Trust to develop new approaches to small scale food growing. We’ve completed the first round of assessments for our first (and hopefully not last) pilot projects round. The interest was huge and the applications we received were fantastic. Sadly we can only work with 5 at the moment but it demonstrated to me that there are people desperate to try out or expand innovative ways of helping people to get their first run on the farming ladder. With farm land increasingly expensive and barriers to entry high, I’m convinced we need to look again at the idea of starter farms.

European Structural and Investment Funds beginning to move

Really important progress was made this month when the Big Lottery Fund agreed to match the funding for social inclusion available through the European Structural and Investment Funds being channelled through Local Economic Partnerships in England. The European Structural and Investment Funds should be in place and ready to be delivered in early 2015. This is good news for many in rural areas as it includes important Rural Development Programme funding could provide a significant boost to the rural economy. There has been a challenge in the past where community enterprises have felt that support through the Rural Development Programme wasn’t available to them or what support was available didn’t understand what community enterprises were all about. If you are involved in a community enterprise, now is the time if you have not already to engage with LEADER groups across the UK and Local Enterprise Partnerships in England.

Inquiry into Community Rights

The Commons Select Committee has launched an inquiry into the Community Rights in England which is taking place until early September.

I’d like to hear from Plunkett members who have used the Community Right to Bid to help shape our response. If you’ve felt the powers have been really useful, or need improving, please email mike.perry@plunkett.co.uk.

What a year for the Co-operative Economy
The co-operative sector’s largest organisation has taken a battering this year and the impact on the sector, in term of overall growth and reputation, has been damaged. Co-operatives UK’s annual report on the Co-operative Economy demonstrates that there are over 6,000 co-operatives performing well across the UK. Individual co-operatives will also face occasional difficulties, but we should defend the sector from those who think that one co-operative facing difficulties means that the model that has worked around the world is no longer viable.

I hope you have a good month ahead.

Here is a roundup of Plunkett’s policy work and issues of interest over the last month. Happy reading.

As a reminder, Plunkett is holding its annual community enterprise networking event and AGM on 1st July in Oxford. It’s a great day packed full of inspiring speakers and fantastic breakout sessions. We’d love to see you there so we’ve kept the prices as low as possible.

Find out more and book your place

Launch of Growing Livelihoods pilot

We were delighted to launch the Growing Livelihoods pilot scheme this week as part of an event we ran with the Carnegie UK Trust and the LSA Charitable Trust in Cloughjordan, Ireland. The challenge of attracting new entrants to farming is not a new one but we find that the same solutions keep getting put forward and little changes. Many have forgotten about the importance of the first run on the farming ladder, the starter farm. The Land Settlement Association blazed a trail for this beginning in 1934 followed soon after by county council farms. On plots of 5 to 10 acres, families were able to earn a decent livelihood by working co-operatively. They shared tools, machinery and labour and had access to shared facilities like pack houses, propagation, crop planning and marketing of produce. It was successful too, running for over 50 years and consistently providing LSAers with incomes higher than others in farming. Perhaps it is time to look again at this approach?

Find out more about the pilot scheme

Watch our new Growing Livelihoods film

Read our new Growing Livelihoods booklet

The event was held at the Cloughjordan eco-village, an inspiring place that blazed a train for sustainable living and co-operative communities. Find out more, or better still make a visit.

Power to Change

Really important momentum is building with community businesses in England as approaches become increasingly adopted across a range of different issues and as communities increasingly look toward their ‘community rights’.

Power to Change will play an important role in this. The Big Lottery Fund has awarded the contract to support and inspire community businesses ahead of the planned £150m ‘Power to Change’ fund to Locality, the Plunkett Foundation and UnLtd. More information will follow soon but you can read a little more here.

Important time for communities and co-operatives in Scotland

Plunkett and our partners the Development Trust Association Scotland, the Community Shares Unit and Rocket Science launched Community Shares Scotland this month. Backed by the Big Lottery Fund and the Carnegie UK Trust, communities turning towards community shares to raise capital will have access to some great resources and support.

Two important documents have been published this month. The first is the Land Reform Review Group’s final report. The report sets out 60 recommendations, including a Scottish Land and Property Commission with responsibility for understanding and monitoring the system governing the ownership and management of Scotland’s land, and recommending changes in the public interest. Talking about the report at the Community Land Scotland report, the Minister for Environment and Climate Change, Paul Wheelhouse MSP said, “Community ownership also delivers outcomes that can neither be delivered by private ownership nor by government.” It’s not the first, nor the last time, this has been said.
The second is the publication of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill which has been developed to extend and improve the powers that communities have.  We’ll be getting involved in discussions over coming months.

Inquiry into the community rights

The Communities and Local Government Committee has launched an investigation into the community rights in England. If you have experienced the community rights and found they helped your community or found they fell short in places, now is the time to make your voice heard. Plunkett will be submitting a response and so we are keen to hear from members. Contact mike.perry@plunkett.co.uk.

Governments and co-operatives

There is a long history of interference in co-operative movement by governments internationally. Draft proposals under consideration by the Japanese government could lead to the dismantling of the Japanese agricultural co-operative sector that supports the vast majority of farmers in Japan. The mean average farm size is very small in Japan (0.4 hectares) so co-operatives provide a lifeline for these farmers. I had the privilege of seeing the JA Group in action in a visit to Japan in 2012 so sincerely hope these proposals are withdrawn.

The International Co-operative Alliance has created an international team to assist. Read more here.

I hope you have a good month ahead.

Mike

Hi all,

Below is news relating to Plunkett’s policy work and interests which include co-operatives, rural development, community-ownership and food and farming.

A date for your diary

Plunkett’s community-owned enterprise event and AGM is taking place on 1st July in Oxfordshire. We’d love to see you there. More information here.

Co-operatives in the news

It has been another high profile month for the co-operative movement culminating with the Co-operative Group AGM last Saturday. Important reforms were passed by members that included:

  • The creation of an elected board of directors, comprising people with relevant experience to run an organisation like the Co-op
  • The establishment of a structure that gives Co-op members powers to hold the board to account
  • Moving to a “one member, one vote” system, in which members can directly vote on policies
  • The introduction of rules to protect against de-mutualisation

A new purpose for the Co-operative Group was also unveiled – “Championing a better way to do business for you and your communities”

  • Championing – It’s part of our heritage, taking a stand, making a noise on a small number of social issues which are relevant to our businesses and our members lives
  • Better way of doing business – we need to be commercially successful, building a sustainable way of doing business that is mutually beneficial, recycling our success into strengthening communities. Continuing our ongoing commitment to ethical values and sourcing
  • For You – immediate and tangible benefits for our members and customers who are not yet members. Functional benefits – better prices; great quality; right location; excellent customer service; emotional benefit – feels good and feels right
  • Your Communities – enabling and strengthening communities, being locally relevant and reinforcing reasons why members and customers should be loyal to us

The important of affordable housing in rural areas

Housing that is affordable, particularly for people living and working in rural areas, is always one of the most significant issues facing rural communities and has been for years. During the month Plunkett contributed to the Rural Services Network’s response to a Government consultation which is looking at whether to drop a requirement which has delivered significant amount of affordable housing in rural areas. Plunkett has strong links with the Community Land Trust Network (I sit as an associate board member) that helps communities to set up community-owned housing as a response to concerns about affordable housing.

Social investment update

Plunkett is continuing to work with Cabinet Office, HMRC and Treasury to see what practical use the new Social Investment Tax Relief could be. In particular, we’re working to see if some of the exclusions (e.g. agricultural production, co-operative pubs run by tenants) that apply to other incentives like the Enterprise Investment Scheme could be covered by SITR.

On 27 May the new Community Shares Scotland support programme will be launched in Perth. We’re proud to be part of this new support to help broaden the range and number of community share issues in Scotland. Community shares has become a significantly important source of start up capital for community co-operatives in only a few years. We’ll be working with Development Trust Scotland, the Plunkett Foundation, Rocket Science and Community Shares Unit. The service is funded by the Big Lottery Fund and the Carnegie UK Trust.

I hope you have a good month ahead.

Mike