Council plans to make CATs less complicated

- Local People

Liz Bradfield

by Liz Bradfield - GEM Local Democracy Reporter

Outdoor sports facilities, public toilets and playgrounds in Bridgend will be fast tracked into the hands of willing clubs and organisations under a new policy change being implemented by the local authority.

Bridgend County Borough Council (BCBC) says the changes being made to its Community Asset Transfer (CAT) policy will speed up the process, perceived as frustratingly slow by interested groups.

The council said it can no longer afford to run certain facilities and the CATs are a way to maintain and preserve threatened services. Until now, very few clubs, groups or town and community councils have undertaken an asset transfer in the county.

The council now hopes, with the relaxation of certain procedures, that it will change, particularly as it is looking at full cost recovery of facilities which could have clubs paying up to five times more than at present.

At a cabinet meeting on July 23, cabinet member for communities Richard Young said the fast track approach would only apply to trusted partners. He said: “We now have a two-tier system which I think will work to speed up the transfer process.

“For those organisations which have sound financial principles and good governance arrangements, such as community councils, we wouldn’t need a very detailed business plan as there’s very limited risk involved in fast-tracking assets to them.

“For those looking at an asset transfer who are not as financially sound, we would refer back to what we had and expect the detailed business case and other questions to be asked.”

He told councillors one of the catalysts for reviewing the CAT process had been the experience with Bryncethin RFC, the first club to complete an asset transfer in the county.

Cllr Young said: “While it has now become very successful, it was quite torturous at the time for a number of reasons. This included legal problems we had to work through which did not lend the asset to a quick transition.

“However, in reviewing the process we discovered it was quite rigid and a bit unwieldy.”

Council officers said the CAT process had been based on Welsh Government-suggested best practice but would now use a “more light-touch approach”.

A report detailed the advantages of a streamlined process which include helping the council make more savings more quickly, but pointed out the risk that assets could be returned in a worse condition and then closed.

In the report, officers said: “Ongoing policies of fiscal austerity mean that Wales is continuing to face an unprecedented and difficult financial climate for the delivery of local government services. It is imperative that the council continues to work in collaboration with voluntary sector organisations to safeguard the services of value to communities, helping to build a prosperous Wales for current and future generations.”

In reviewing the process, they said a task and finish group had considered approaches adopted by other local authorities like Carmarthenshire and Neath Port Talbot to community asset transfers.

The changes being implemented include:

• Community groups being issued with all the details surrounding the asset’s condition, operating costs and compliance at the earliest opportunity.

• Model terms and template leases for particular asset groups.

A list of assets available for community asset transfer will be maintained, periodically reviewed and updated and the submission of income and expenditure projections for a minimum of a five-year period will be enough for the majority of community asset transfers, but detailed business plans will still be requested for complex projects and the new approach will mean that the majority of community groups will no longer be expected to produce a full detailed business case.

Liz Bradfield

Local democracy reporter

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