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Tuesday, 30th November 2010

UK: To Buy, to Bid, to Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy

To Buy, to Bid, to Build: Community Rights for an Asset Owning Democracy
Source: ResPublica
From the Introduction:

Welfare states around the world will be forced by hard budgetary constraints to reconsider their current model of provision. The state needs to redefine its relationship with individuals and, crucially, with communities. It must find a way of re-endowing communities with independence and self-sufficiency, of giving them the wherewithal to transform themselves and their neighborhoods. The starting point is rethinking how it can leverage and direct not only its revenue budgets but – as this paper will discuss in detail – also its capital assets in a way that broadens and deepens social action and civic participation.

The opportunity for this new relationship in the UK has arrived sooner than
expected or hoped. Given the extent of budgetary cuts, a large proportion of the public estate is no longer sustainable in its current form. We now face an unprecedented mass divestment of state assets, which among other things is likely to include:
• Libraries. • Swimming pools. • Community centres. • Public spaces. • Council offices. • Courts. • Police stations. • Prison buildings. • The road network. • British Waterways. • RDA, MoD and Whitehall assets. • Ports.

In the years to come, a huge amount of this wealth will suddenly cease to be public and there is a real risk that such assets will not only be privatised (as during the 1980s) but privatised in such a way as to reinforce existing inequalities of wealth. There is a danger that the net result will be a rent seekers’ paradise, where vested interests triumph over communal need and wealth flows backwards to the already established and upwards to the already wealthy.

We believe that the opposite is possible. Public assets can – and, wherever desirable, should – become community assets, owned mutually or by individual shareholders or stakeholders in association with communities. These public goods can, if properly directed and organised, capitalise both civil society and the bottom 10 per cent of society which currently has negative net wealth.

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