Here is a update on policy issues that I’ve got involved with over the past month at Plunkett. We get involved in policy work with the aim of helping rural communities to be better able to set up and run a range of community co-operatives.
I represented the Woodland Social Enterprise Network (which now has a logo!), a growing network of organisations and individuals with an interest in woodlands and social enterprise, at the National Forestry Forum for the first time. Plunkett provides the secretariat for this network that celebrated its first anniversary in December. At the meeting the Defra Minister Dan Rogerson presented their Forestry and Woodland Statement one year on report which included three references to the work the Woodland Social Enterprise Network has undertaken during the year.
Network members have achieved some amazing things during the year. Communities have undertaken community share issues to buy woodland. Public sector woodland management staff have spun out of the public sector to form a social enterprise. The first woodland has been registered as an Asset of Community Value. Network members are undertaking research into woodland social enterprises for the Forestry Commission. Above all, we’re all talking and sharing which can only be a good thing. If you’re interested in joining the mailing list for the network, please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since our Co-operative Pubs Advice Line was launched in March last year, at Plunkett we have received more enquiries from communities trying to set up a co-operative pub than any other community enterprise. A number of these face some serious challenges trying to save their beloved local. In England communities can register pubs as Assets of Community Value with their local council as 300 communities have now done. But sometimes this isn’t enough. As recent CAMRA research has shown, increasing numbers of pubs are being converted into supermarkets as this is currently permitted development. Councils have the power to use Article 4 directions to restrict these permitted development but few are willing to use them due to concerns from the local authority that they will be liable for a compensation claim. We, CAMRA and others are looking at ways that councils can mitigate this risk, perhaps by national government establishing a fund that councils can use for compensation if a claim arises. In reality compensation is rarely paid but the existence of a fund would help councils to take a few more risks to help communities to save what is important to them. Since the start of the year a number of communities have been able to complete the purchase of their local, two with the help of capital grants from Social Investment Business.
Plunkett Scotland responded to the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill consultation which has now closed. We believe communities are best place to make the right decision on issues affecting them. We therefore responded to say that the Scottish Government need to make it easier and simpler for communities to take on land and assets. We also responded to say that other legal forms, particularly co-operatives and community benefit societies should be considered as legitimate legal forms to trigger powers like the Community Right to Buy. Without this, communities are prevented from using a powerful tool to raise capital – community shares.
Back to Defra. Plunkett and the Defra Social Enterprise Strategic Partnership presented to a group of rural Local Economic Partnerships at Defra. Some knew a lot about social enterprise, some knew a bit and to some social enterprise wasn’t well known. It was a great session and those attending went away inspired after a range of people talked passionately about why social enterprise matters. We’re hopeful that Local Economic Partnerships will see the value in supporting social enterprises with the European Structural and Investment Funds which will be heading their way this year.
If you’d like to know more about Plunkett’s policy work drop me an email on email@example.com.