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Making the most out of local authority land

Isabella Coin

We recently held the first of a series of six workshops funded by Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, focusing on key issues facing land-based social enterprises. Our first workshop explored how local authorities and land-based social enterprises can work together to improve public land use.

On 23rd March, we brought local authority officers, land-based social entrepreneurs and other experts together to talk about improving the management of local authority land. The workshop provided an opportunity for open discussion among members of different sectors, to explore experiences, issues around commissioning and land use and solutions from the social economy.

Local authorities are facing budget cuts that challenge their ability to manage land as they have done in the past. Attendees described key frustrations about managing the environmental assets:

  • Green spaces are often under-valued, meaning funding for their management is hard to secure
  • It is hard to create changes in land-management balancing both local, short-term needs and long term, wider political goals

Social enterprises also described some common barriers, including struggles with erroneous perceptions and difficulties approaching councils:

  • They are often mistaken for voluntary groups
  • They are perceived by councils as lacking capacity and needing extra support
  • Some social enterprises find it hard to approach councils,  due to a lack of confidence, based on previous bad experiences, or because they find the way councils are structured daunting and hard to negotiate.

Despite these obstacles, land-based social enterprises can help local authorities by providing better services while lowering their costs in the long term. Social enterprises can provide many added benefits together with green space management:

  • They can help councils meet  public health, training and employment targets,
  • They provide access to alternative funding streams,
  • They are good at engaging local communities.

Additionally, councils can play a crucial role in helping land-based social enterprises achieve their potential. As key landowners and commissioners of land-based services, councils can provide spaces and services for land-based social enterprises to flourish and create shared environmental, economic and social benefits.

Workshop attendees came up with several ways in which land-based social enterprises and local authorities could collaborate to improve public land. These included:

  • Inspiring innovation: local authorities can be inspired by the alternative practices used by social enterprises. Where good practice occurs, we need innovative, creative ways of showcasing these successes to convince other councils to get involved. This might include visualisations, or films, for example OrganicLea recently appeared in Media Trust’s film series Food Rebels.
  • Exploring new ways of governing and managing land: new forms of managing land such as trusts and endowments can help social enterprises manage land for the common good. Local authorities need to look for learning from other areas, and be open to taking new approaches to managing their environmental assets.
  • Fostering fertile collaboration that cuts through bureaucracy: opportunities for dialogue between commissioners and land-based social enterprises can improve communication and increase motivation to achieve shared objectives.

We are now looking at ways to help build joint solutions for better public land use involving land-based social enterprises and local authorities.

Our third workshop will take place on 13th July and it will focus on skills deficits issues commonly faced by land-based social enterprises. In the meantime, look out for our blog on the second workshop, which concentrated on the planning system. You can also find out more about other issues faced by land-based social enterprises in our recent policy report.

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