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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.