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The LibCon Coalition: Opportunity and Austerity

30 June 2010

As the dust settles and the excitement melts away, the country is coming to terms with our new coalition Government and what this is going to mean for each of us. The Ethical Property Foundation sees this as an exciting time for charities that are keen to take on community assets and adopt a more entrepreneurial approach, yet there are serious concerns about spending cuts. Meanwhile, we look forward to greater community involvement in the planning system; and as the environment and climate change are pushed up the agenda we look to be part of the conversation around creating more socially and environmentally sustainable workplaces.

The Big Society

Before the election we posted a blog looking at the Conservative’s Big Society initiative (follow this link to see our blog entry). While we broadly welcomed the recognition of the part played by the third sector in our society we were concerned about a lack of detail and the fact that this initiative might be used to disguise a reduction in service provision. So far detail is still patchy but the Big Society idea has survived the election and appears to be an important part of the Government’s strategy for the next five years. For many groups that we work with this is an exciting opportunity – as communities are encouraged to take over community centres, post offices, village shops and other buildings and spaces which have a real benefit and value to a neighbourhood. As the asset transfer agenda becomes ever more popular it is hoped that community groups will receive the financial and practical support to take on community assets. The Ethical Property Foundation continues to work closely with the Asset Transfer Unit and others to support such projects and is excited to see community groups gaining the skills and confidence to make their buildings work for them.

Spending cuts

Yet despite all the excitement about the potential for new projects we are about to enter an era of austerity. As the treasury set out cuts across all government departments we saw the Department for Communities and Local Government being asked to save £740m, the Office for Civil Society to cut £79m and Regional Development Agencies (if they are not scrapped) to cut £270m. With the emergency budget last week unveiling a planned VAT hike to 20% on top of central and local government cuts, this could be a very challenging time for charities and community groups. The Foundation will be working hard to help charities with the property issues which arise as financial and human resources become scarcer.

Changes to planning

So far we understand that the Government plans to scrap Regional Spatial Strategies and is looking to reform the planning system to give neighbourhoods a greater ability to determine the shape of the places in which they live. Throughout the Conservative campaign and in the coalition documents the emphasis is on creating a more accountable planning system. Currently we are waiting to hear for confirmation whether the recently implemented Community Infrastructure Levy will be scrapped. The Ethical Property Foundation has long campaigned for a planning system where communities have a voice throughout the process and that negative impacts should always be avoided or reduced as far as possible. We hope that these changes introduce a more democratic system that ensures developments strengthen communities and doesn’t divide them.

Environment and climate change

As supporters of 10:10 it was great to see the Government signing up to the pledge and making a serious commitment to cut emissions by 10% this year. The coalition paper which came out on Wednesday 20th May sets out clearly that climate change is a high priority for the new government – with further investment in renewable energy, feed-in tariffs and a green investment bank. As the Ethical Property Foundation continues its work to improve the environmental and social performances of our workplaces in the UK, we hope that the government appreciates the wider context of creating sustainable communities; and that workplaces in the UK are a key issue. Not just energy efficiency, but waste reduction, recycling, water use, and social sustainability are all crucial to creating workplaces that engage with communities and are fair to those who work within them.

As we continue to work to define what an ethical workplace is we look forward to engaging with central and local government.

Keep an eye on our website over the next few months as we continue to assess how the new government and its policies will affect the charities, community groups and the buildings they work in.

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