Community Asset Transfer in England 2010 to 2018 – enabling innovation for positive social change or perpetuating entrenched social inequalities?


This research sets out to evaluate whether Community Asset Transfer (CAT), a mechanism for disposing of public property assets by selling, leasing or giving them to community organisations at less than market value, has any effect in reducing place-based inequalities. The use of CATs by local authorities has increased since the passing of the Localism Act in 2011 and they are portrayed as forming part of the localism agenda adopted by the British Coalition government at that time. Given the rhetoric of community empowerment surrounding this agenda, it is considered legitimate to evaluate asset transfers in these terms.

In this study Community Asset Transfers are set into the context of both theory and policy. Theoretical frameworks used to analyse the transfers include capability approaches and notions of social capital and social innovation. CATs are also considered in relation to other forms of community-led and asset-based development, as they can be seen as part of a historical continuum of social programmes and initiatives aimed at reducing poverty and regenerating deprived neighbourhoods. Research also covers relevant UK policies such as the imposition of austerity and its impact on the behaviour of local authorities, and the promotion of localism and the ‘Big Society’ idea favoured by Prime Minister David Cameron.

The research focuses on the county of West Yorkshire, a region with a reportedly high incidence of Community Asset Transfers. The policies and practices of the five local authorities making up the county are analysed and compared, using both secondary sources and primary data gathered through interviews with councillorsand council officers from those authorities. A further set of interviews, with members of community groups who have gonethrough the CAT process, builds on this information to create a picture of how CAT is experienced by these groups, and what value it brings to them.The distribution of CATs across the region is mapped against deprivation indices and analysis is made of any correlation found.

Having collated and coded the data from the local authorities and the community groups, the emergent themes are then mapped back onto frameworks and models previously discovered as part of the background study into the capability andsocial capitals approaches. Kleine’s (2010) Choice Framework is deemed to have the best fit with the findings of the study, but even it is a less than perfect match. A new framework, the Community Asset Transfer Framework (CATF), is therefore developed, better to reflect those findings. This new framework is explained at length.

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