Sunday 21 May 2017

Brent to abandon Community Asset Transfer in favour of commercial marketing of its property (our property?)

The Bowls Pavilion, KIng Edward VII Park
The Brent Cabinet on Monday will consider an 'Urgent' supplementary item LINK which will end the Community Asset Transfer scheme in 10 days time on May 31st - giving the public and councillors very little time to comment.

The Council claims that the scheme has been unsuccessful in meeting its objectives and although it mentions some of its own policy and practices as getting in the way of Third Sector Organisations (TSOs) making bids for Council property it claims it is the quality of the property that is the main problem:
The most important factor, however, is the lack of high quality assets available for CAT in Brent. The Strategic Property Plan currently lists just three properties available: Chalkhill Police Office, Welford Centre (Units 1-3) and the Millennium Day Centre. Moreover, those that are made available are of low quality, meaning that local TSOs - which are best-placed to realise the community benefits of CAT - are left with poorer accommodation, or else are less likely to apply because they are unable to commit the investment required to bring assets up to standard.
These are the CATs considered so far.

The Officers' Report states:
Four properties have been approved by Cabinet for marketing as CATs: Gladstone Park Pavilion (Kilburn Cosmos clubhouse); Tenterden Pavilion; Northwick Park Pavilion and Butler’s Green toilets. However, authority to market Northwick Park Pavilion was subsequently withdrawn by Cabinet in January 2017 owing to its inclusion in the One Public Estate programme. A fifth property, Barham Park Card Room, was approved for marketing under the council’s CAT policy by the Barham Park Trust Committee in July 2015.
Four properties have been identified as unsuitable for CAT: Kingsbury Resource Centre, Wembley Youth and Community Centre, Church Lane Recreation Ground and King Edward VII Park buildings. This has been on the basis they had already been marketed through regular property channels at the time of the CAT submission. The Old Refectory in Central Middlesex Hospital property is ineligible as it is not council-owned. 
In addition to this, one property - Welsh Harp Environment Education Centre - was identified for CAT as part of a council initiated service review and leased to Thames 21 in January 2016
The change of policy means in effect that earlier commitment to considering the social benefit of bids as well as the commercial return on property has been ditched.  The financial return, the highest bid, will now be the main factor.
 It is worth readers looking at what the report says about the processes involved in voluntary organisations seeking a community asset transfer from the Council to the organisation and considering whether the Council could have taken action to make things less difficult. (Highlighting mine)
From the consultation with Brent TSOs, partners and officers in March 2016, the evidence indicates the CAT policy does not meet the intended goals of enabling better management of assets, enabling more effective delivery of Borough Plan outcomes by TSOs, and empowering local communities. Some of the issues identified concern the supporting processes and tools, which can make applying for CATs more difficult for TSOs. These include the accessibility of information on assets eligible for CAT, and communication between TSOs and the council in relation to CATs. These could be resolved with relatively straightforward operational changes.  
However, other factors also discourage some TSOs from CATs. These include choices that the council has made about policy and its underpinning principles, such as criteria for applicants, open marketing of CAT opportunities, and the length of leases offered.
They also include lack of capacity in smaller TSOs, limiting their ability to successfully engage in a CAT. Overall, contrary to empowering local organisations, these factors have served to exclude them and discourage them from taking up potential opportunities to engage with the council. The original ethos that a straightforward Expression of Interest is sufficient to kick start the CAT process has been lost, with applicants expend considerable time and resources in developing a full property bid from the outset.
 The report concludes:
The report finds that the CAT policy is not meeting its objectives, and recommends that the council discontinues the existing CAT process in favour of marketing all council assets in the usual way


Philip Grant said...

Why the urgency? The Council has put the following explanation in the "Forward Plan" on its website:-

'Review of Community Asset Transfers Policy

Decision maker: Cabinet
Decision due: 22 May 2017
Lead officer: Pascoe Sawyers
Notice of proposed decision first published: 19/05/2017

This decision will be taken under urgency procedures.

Reason for urgency:
The paper recommends discontinuing the scheme by 31 May 2017. To delay could result in the submission of further Expressions of Interest in council assets which could not be fully assessed between now and the June Cabinet meeting. As such, it would not be an organisation’s interest to pursue such an application. At this current point in time there are no outstanding CAT applications under assessment.'

That seems a pretty flimsy reason for rushing through this decision, which was only put forward last Friday. To reach that decision this evening, without a single clear working day's notice, would appear to breach Brent's Constitution.

Brent's Standing Order 64 says that for a matter to be considered as "Any Other Urgent Business", written notice has to be given by a member of the committee involved to the Head of Executive and Member Services. No evidence is given that this has been done.

Urgent decisions at Cabinet meetings which are not on the Forward Plan have special rules set out at Standing Order 16. These include that the Chair of the relevant Scrutiny Committee has been given at least five clear days written notice of the proposed decision (not possible, as it was only revealed on 19 May), and that [in 16 (a)]:

'1.3. the proper officer has made copies of the notice given to the Chair of the relevant Scrutiny Committee and made these available to the public at the offices of the Council and on the Council’s website.'

I am sending the text of this comment (immediately after posting it here) to Carolyn Downs, with copies to Cllr. Butt and Thomas Cattermole, so that they can ensure that no illegal decision is made on this matter at this evening's Cabinet meeting.


Philip Grant said...


As indicated at the end of my comment above, I sent a copy of its text to the Council's Chief Executive just before 4pm today. I received the following reply, just before 5.15pm (three quarters of an hour before the Cabinet meeting):-

'Dear Mr Grant

As explained in the reasons for urgency to which you refer, if the report is not taken at the Cabinet meeting tonight, it will have to wait until the June Cabinet meeting. Delaying until then may result in organisations spending time and effort on applications which it will not be possible to process before the that meeting. There is a window of opportunity to end the CAT policy, if Cabinet chooses to do so, while there are no current applications.

Standing Order 64 relates to council committees and sub-committees and not to Cabinet.

Cabinet decisions are covered by Standing Order 16 to which you also refer. As required by that Standing Order the Chair of the relevant Scrutiny Committee has agreed that the decision is urgent and cannot reasonably be deferred. The notice of the decision sent to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee has been published on the council’s website.

I can therefore reassure you that it is lawful for Cabinet to consider the report this evening and to take a decision concerning it.

Best wishes

Debra Norman
Interim Chief Legal Officer'

Ms Norman is correct to say that a document (which she refers to as 'the notice of the decision', NOT a notice of the proposed decision!) has been made available to the public on the Council's website at:

Although this document may contain the text of the notice that was given, it does not show who the notice was actually given to (it should have been sent to Cllr. Matt Kelcher) or when it was given. The "notice" includes the final line:

'Date approved by the Chair of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee: 19 May 2017'

Another point of interest (if you are someone as pedantic as me!) is that Ms Norman's reply says:
'Standing Order 64 relates to council committees and sub-committees and not to Cabinet.'

However, the agenda for this evening's Cabinet meeting states:
'15. Any other urgent business

Notice of items to be raised under this heading must be given in writing to the Head of Executive and Member Services or his representative before the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 64.'

Is it any wonder that I sometimes get the impression that Brent Council doesn't know what its own rules are, and perhaps doesn't bother whether they are always followed?


Philip Grant said...

The "decisions" information added to the agenda page on the Council's website for Monday evening's Cabinet Meeting includes the following for this item (15a):-


15.1 With the agreement of the Chair and the permission of the Chair of the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, item 15a has been added to the agenda for urgent consideration.

Review of Community Asset Transfers Policy


15.2 Cabinet approved the discontinuation of the Community Asset Transfer scheme from 31 May 2017.'

As I said at the start of my initial comment above, 'why the urgency?'

Was the Council aware that any local community organisation was about to "Express an Interest" in having a publicly owned building or piece of land made available to them to lease or purchase for community use?

Or was the Council keen to sell or lease a particular publicly owned building or piece of land to a commercial buyer, and did not want the risk of a CAT application getting in the way of it making a quick buck from selling off a public asset?

We will have to wait and see what happens next, after 31 May 2017.


Martin Francis said...

Thanks for updating readers Philip. I hope to resume normal service soon.