The introduction of Community Rights (Right to Buy, Challenge and Build) as part of the government’s Localism Bill may offer new opportunities for voluntary and community groups to claim a stake in their local area – but are they ready for them?
Urban Forum recently conducted a survey of its members about their perceptions, understanding, and support needs in relation to community rights. What we found is that whilst there is optimism about the prospect of the rights (46% see them as an opportunity), there is a great deal of up-skilling and learning that needs to be done if they are to be taken up at all.
We found high levels of interest but also trepidation. Our members think that community rights have the potential to improve local services and help local groups to have a voice, but there are fears about the potential to fractionalise services and disadvantage marginalised communities.
The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) recently published a summary of the responses of its own consultation on the Rights to Buy and Challenge. It is telling that only a fifth of all responses were received from voluntary and community bodies. Urban Forum’s survey shows us that local community groups simply don’t have the information or knowledge yet to make a judgement about how community rights will actually work for them.
There were some similarities between our survey findings and the DCLG responses. Whilst opinions on the technicalities of implementing both rights, including time periods and definitions varied, there was near-universal agreement that support will be crucial. Half of those surveyed by Urban Forum see community rights as a potential opportunity, but three quarters say they need support to take full advantage.
Indeed, if community rights are to mean anything at all for the community sector, extensive awareness-raising will be a first priority.
If barriers such as equalities issues, nimbyism and lack of funding are to be overcome, targeted support will need to be available. Community groups will need access to advice and support on legal issues, community rights processes, business planning, inclusive participation and much more.
Urban Forum’s survey also found that power inbalances, vested interests, and local authority practices are perceived as significant barriers. Resolving these has implications for public sector stakeholders in commissioning practices, cross- sector relationships, transparency and accountability in decision-making.
In order for community rights to provide assets instead of liabilities for communities a great deal of work is required across the public and voluntary and community sectors ahead of the planned introduction in 2012.
Caitlin McMullin, policy and research officer, Urban Forum
Urban Forum is a national membership charity for community and voluntary groups involved in regeneration. Urban Forum takes messages from communities to Government, where it seeks to influence policymaking. Contact Caitlin McMullin at Caitlin@urbanforum.org.uk
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