Cooperative Council: Cooperative Assets

Failsworth Town Hall
Failsworth Town Hall

Some liken changing a place to turning around a tanker; slow progress before you’re going in the right direction.

Well, that’s true but before you venture into new seas you should make the necessary checks to make sure the ship is fit for the journey.

And that’s the link to this week’s blog theme –  Oldham Council as a cooperative council. Before we set out trying to change the relationship between the community and public services we have to work hard to get our own house in order.

I believe we’ve made progress towards that aim by modernising local democracy. Oldham council is more accessible and open than before with more residents engaging, raising questions, and becoming involved than ever before.

We’re making good progress in making sure the council operates in an ethical way through constitutional changes, new values and behaviours for staff and residents as well as some fundamental changes to the way the council spends public money with Social Value Procurement already beginning to pay dividends for the community.

But for the council to be open to the community it has to be more than a transactional relationship – even doing things in a way that is fair and ethical won’t be enough.

Perhaps due to the topography, or political decisions which went against local opinion, there is a feeling that the council’s buildings  are ‘Oldham’s Ivory Tower’ and this has to change.

We’ve  invited the community into council meetings through webstreaming but until recently if a community group wanted to use a council building for a meeting the cost could be as high as £300 for a modest room. This is an instant barrier if we want to be part of the community and goes against the idea of supporting people to ‘do their bit’, as it could seem that when they did we cashed in.

Don’t get me wrong, I fully see the rationale to charge for room hire, but incrementally the cost has got so high community groups are simply priced out of the market.

Well, no more!

We have approved a wide ranging Cooperative Asset Policy which promotes the use of public buildings to support our ambition for a vibrant Cooperative Borough where everyone does their bit, and then share in the dividend of that.

The policy puts an end to not-for-profit groups being priced out with excessive hire charges, while ensuring commercial events such as weddings remain at a commercial rate.

The policy goes even further than just room hire. We are promoting long leaseholds, asset transfer and more community involvement in running local facilities currently run by the council. For example, we have streamlined the process for considering asset transfer and the promotion of the community right to bid.

So call it an Ivory Tower if you wish. But instead of saying its ‘where the council is’ perhaps, if this policy works, people will begin to say its ‘where the community meets’, or am I being a little too optimistic?

For more information go to: Oldham Council’s Co-operative Asset Policy

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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