Campaigners’ bids to take on treasured assets have plummeted in recent years, analysis reveals, amid warnings that communities are becoming disillusioned with promises made under David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ ideals.
Powers pledged under the Right to Bid scheme, which registers amenities as Assets of Community Value (ACV), offer protection for communities aiming to take on ownership of threatened services, from pubs to leisure centres or historic buildings.
In 2010, then-Prime Minister Mr Cameron launched his so-called Big Society initiative to empower communities, arguing groups should have the power to shape their services.
There were early warnings that some councils were failing to embrace legislation after an investigation by The Yorkshire Post found a third of all applications for the region had been refused.
More evidence has emerged of a steep decline in interest, with new applications falling nearly two-thirds since 2015, prompting accusations that the scheme has failed to ensure major changes.
Guidance has proved to be lacking clarity, the Campaign for Real Ale’s head of campaigns, Paul Ainsworth, warned, arguing some councils are rejecting nominations for “spurious” reasons. While there are instances of success stories, he said, a fall in interest has proved disappointing given initial enthusiasm.
“All too many councils have adopted attitudes which have ranged from unhelpful to downright obstructive,” he said. “We’ve come across instances of councils ‘gold-plating’ their information and evidence requirements, way above what the legislation and guidance actually require.”
Analysis of registers for authorities in Yorkshire shows nominations have fallen by nearly two-thirds since 2015, with just 39 submitted last year.
Steep falls in applications must be considered against a backdrop of additional protections for pubs since 2017, Mr Ainsworth said, which means Camra rarely now submits its own appeals. But despite this, he added, there are still clear challenges over its working practice, with initial enthusiasm now waning amid a lack of publicity and clear guidance.
“The Ministry itself seems to have lost interest,” he said.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government confirmed it does not collect data on how assets are disposed of, adding it is for local authorities to determine nominations criteria.
The Minister for Pubs, Jake Berry, said: “Pubs are at the heart of local communities, and we want to see them thrive. Our More Than a Pub programme is providing over £4m of support to help communities buy local pubs – but communities can also nominate other buildings to receive ACV status, and we will continue to support them to do so.”