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Education e-briefing: Localism Act 2011

    • Education - Briefings

    13-03-2012

    New rights and powers for communities: implications for educational institutions

    The Localism Act introduces a number of powers which are aimed at empowering communities. These provisions are key to the government’s commitment to decentralisation, giving employees, parish councils, community and voluntary groups the ability to come up with good ideas about how services can be run differently or better and giving groups the time they need to prepare effective bids for running public services.  The government describes it as “meeting the challenge to deliver better for less”, seeking out new and innovative ways of providing or transforming public services.  The core principles are set out in the Open Public Services White Paper which describes the government’s thinking on the “Big Society” and sets out ways that local authorities can open up commissioning processes and decentralise further.

    This briefing focuses on the key provisions in the Localism Act which will support the delivery of these principles. Parts of the Act are worded in such a way that educational charities such as academies, colleges and universities may be able to take advantage of the new powers, even though they are not specifically identified.

    The Localism Act includes new rights for local communities, including the right to nominate assets for inclusion on a list maintained by a local authority of assets of community value and the community right to challenge.

    Assets of community value

    Under the community right to buy it will be feasible for parish councils or a voluntary or community body to make a nomination in respect of local amenities and buildings (for example town halls, village shops, or pubs but quite possibly a campus of an educational institution), to be nominated for listing as an asset of community value. Section 89 of the Act does not refer to charitable bodies as being able to nominate so it would seem unlikely that education institutions will be able to take advantage of it. However, institutions need to be aware that the result of inclusion of their land in the list would be a moratorium on disposal, initially for 6 months after the institution has given notice of intention to dispose and a further 6 months from the proposed date of disposal, making a maximum of 18 months from the date the local authority receives notice of intended disposal. The institution would  then not be able to dispose of the land without the consent of the Secretary of State. The intention is that this will give the local community time to try to raise funds to buy the land.

    Community right to challenge

    Under the community right to challenge, “relevant bodies “will be able to express an interest in taking over the running of local public services currently provided by “relevant authorities” . “Relevant bodies” are defined by s.86 as voluntary, charitable and community groups, parish councils and local authority staff. The inclusion of charitable bodies means that many educational institutions may be able to take advantage of the right. “Relevant authorities” are county councils, district councils, London borough councils and other bodies specified by the Secretary of State in regulations.  A relevant body can express an interest in providing or helping to provide a service on behalf of the authority, the authority must consider this and accept, reject or modify it. If it accepts it there must still be a procurement exercise.

    There has been extensive consultation about the community rights, resulting in policy statements which were published in September 2011 and are available on the DCLG website.

    Please click here to view: Community Right to Challenge - Policy Statement;  Assets of Community Value - Policy Statement.

    Details of the procedures to be followed in exercising the right to challenge will be provided in regulations.

    It is possible that some educational institutions will be interested in considering exercising the right to challenge where otherwise a particular council run service (eg a branch library or sports facility) would otherwise have to close for financial reasons.

    Conclusions

    Although the new provisions give a framework to enable innovation and flexibility it remains to be seen to what extent voluntary and community groups or groups of employees will take up the opportunity and also be able to sustain service delivery in the longer term.  The challenges will be significant, especially where a group wishes to take over the management of a building to deliver services.  Many voluntary groups have seen a cut in funding as a result of the public sector cuts and will find it difficult to raise long term funding to support the maintenance of buildings or guarantee delivery of services in the longer term. However, this may present an opportunity for educational institutions, perhaps working in partnership with community groups, to work with local authorities in helping to ensure that some education-related services are maintained for the benefit of the local community.

    For more information, please contact:

    Frances Woodhead
    Consultant
    Tel: 0845 498 4305
    franceswoodhead@eversheds.com

    Nick Saunders
    Senior Associate
    Tel: 0845 497 1537
    nicholassaunders@eversheds.com                        

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