Amendment 1

Dormant Assets Bill [HL] - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 16th November 2021.

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Lord Bassam of Brighton:

Moved by Lord Bassam of Brighton

1: Clause 29, page 22, line 13, at end insert—“(1A) An order under this section may enable the creation of funds (to be known as “community wealth funds”) that may make grants and other payments to support the provision of social infrastructure to further the wellbeing of communities suffering from high levels of deprivation and low levels of social infrastructure.(1B) The Secretary of State may—(a) by order create one or more community wealth funds for a temporary period of at least 10 years, and(b) at the end of that period review the efficacy of the community wealth funds with a view to creating community wealth funds on a permanent basis.(1C) In subsection (1A), “social infrastructure” means—(a) buildings or other assets owned or managed by organisations located in communities for the purposes of local residents’ meeting, socialising, accessing educational resources, or conducting other activities to improve their wellbeing, or(b) organisations, whether incorporated or unincorporated, existing for the purposes set out in paragraph (a), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g), (i) or (j) of section 3(1) of the Charities Act 2011.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would enable orders under Clause 29 to create community wealth funds as a means of tackling deprivation and building social infrastructure in left-behind communities. It would mandate the Secretary of State to establish and review the effectiveness of one or more pilot schemes which would run over at least ten years.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade)

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his first outing on the Bill. Before I get into the body of the amendment, I perhaps ought to declare an interest. I am a member of several boards of charities, and I work for a charity, so I am rather hoping that if we endorse this amendment, those charities might at some point benefit from it. Nevertheless, it is an interest to be declared.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, for leading this debate in Committee, when he proposed what could be called a “full-fat” version of the community wealth fund initiative. In Committee, the Government argued that the local trust proposals, while interesting, are not sufficiently worked through, meaning that the DCMS is not in a position to make community wealth funds a beneficiary of dormant asset funds at this time.

Amendment 1 suggests a reasonable compromise and, on that basis, we hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment. The text would give the Government the power to establish a long-term pilot scheme, enabling small-scale investments to be made in local communities that have been left behind in recent years and for data relating to the social impact of those investments to be gathered and analysed. The amendment does not compel Her Majesty’s Government to act but gives them the tools needed to commission such a pilot.

The Government’s stated commitment to the levelling- up agenda was very much at the centre of their 2019 election campaign and, of course, they have subsequently argued strongly in favour of levelling up in many different guises and fora—we await anxiously, with bated breath and much anticipation, the arrival of the White Paper—so it is hard to see any reason why DCMS should exclude itself from that policy process and not agree to trial the community wealth fund approach.

My argument is simply that the proposal could act as a powerful tool in boosting deprived areas, putting small sums of money in communities’ hands so that they can invest in the facilities or services that would have the most local benefit—perhaps subsidising a community hall, running adult learning classes, supporting skills and training hubs and sports facilities, and improving digital connectivity. I am sure we could all come up with a long list of things that could directly benefit communities that have been left behind and require levelling up.

The other feature of this, which speaks to the amendment, is that much of the Government’s funding so far announced for levelling-up programmes is focused from the centre, so it is directed and targeted at precise places and communities. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, but the community wealth fund, if trialled and piloted in the right way, would put money directly into the hands of communities that sought to benefit from them, giving a sort of bottom-up approach, one that I believe most of us in your Lordships’ House would very much support.

Stakeholders have repeatedly signalled a willingness to discuss their idea with Ministers. They are realistic about the difficulties of adopting community wealth funds with a big bang approach, which in my view adds rather more weight to the proposal for a time-limited series of low-risk pilots.

Finally, while I am on this point, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, who has made a valedictory speech and is therefore unable to contribute to this debate. We are grateful for her support for this amendment, as well as that of the Bishops at large. We are also, of course, very grateful to the right reverend Prelate for her wider service in your Lordships’ House.

We see this amendment as part of a levelling-up agenda and a way of empowering communities, as well as an opportunity to trial new and innovative ways of funding communities. We believe that this has a low-risk attached to it but would nevertheless give a boost, and some inspiration and thinking, to local wealth creation. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, I am very delighted to support this amendment. My colleagues and I are great believers in empowering local communities. Indeed, in my years as an MP, I saw a number of local initiatives, driven by local people and community groups, that did some extremely good work but could not cope with the mutual demands of both providing their services and fundraising, so they were unable to grow to that kind of sustainable point that was so important in the community. It seems to me that the community wealth fund gives opportunities to those new initiatives, driven by local people, targeted very much towards the members of the local community and very much reflecting local need. It would seem ideal to do this under the structure of the dormant assets programme.

I have two other reasons for feeling that this is important. Later on Report, we will address issues of oversight over the kind of programmes funded through dormant assets. But it seems to me that there is no way that that issue can be addressed without recognising that the kind of resources for the detailed scrutiny and monitoring of programmes is in short supply. It seems to me that, when you have small local programmes, a well-structured community wealth fund arrangement can put in place that administrative oversight and make sure that, locally, the funds are well spent, provide value for money and are properly targeted. So that level of administration in fact makes up for a much broader weakness, frankly, within the overall dormant assets structure.

I am also very pleased to look at a pilot approach—this will be a case of trialling, reshaping and refining—because I am concerned to make sure that the money derived from the dormant asset funds is used in addition to the kind of services that ought to be provided, whether by central or local government. It will be really important for an entity such as the community wealth fund to work in tandem with local authorities but not substituting for what they can or should be doing. We do not want duplication of administration or service, and we certainly do not want to give central government an opportunity to further reduce the resources that it provides to local authorities on the grounds that the dormant asset fund and various charitable and local civic societies will do the work in its place and not require the normal support and resource that ought to be provided.

It therefore seems to me that this is very much a win-win approach, and I hope that the Government will take it on board. The Bill is an opportunity to expand what has been a very successful programme in significant additional directions, and this is certainly one of them.

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I have my name down in support of this amendment, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, builds on one that we debated in Committee. As is always the case, when you come back to the subject, there is a risk of a great deal of repetition, and I do not wish to try the patience of the House with a long exposé. During the debate in Committee, the Minister’s predecessor, my noble friend Lady Barran, raised some significant concerns that the Government had about the way that this might operate. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has very neatly—if I may say so without sounding patronising—answered some of the points made then.

I will repeat, in four sentences, four reasons why I am attracted to community wealth funds. They are very local and can reflect the often highly idiosyncratic needs of a particular local community. They can provide a physical space—a building—as a focus for presenting and answering those particular needs. Thirdly, they can provide an element of professional help, without which a purely voluntary organisation can struggle. Fourthly—this is most important—they can provide the long-term capital needed to answer and build answers to the very deep-seated challenges that many of these communities face.

However, as my noble friend Lady Barran said—I am sure that if I could see my noble friend’s speaking note I would see that he will repeat it in a minute—this is a new approach and the Community Wealth Fund Alliance is setting out, brimming with confidence, hope and optimism. I certainly wish it well, but there will be difficult days ahead with hard decisions about structure, approach, governance and impact. The noble Baroness will probably raise that last issue in her speech in a minute. It is dangerous if you accept too rigid an approach in primary legislation; if it subsequently turns out to be less than ideal, you are stuck with it. So there is an element of “Be careful what you wish for”.

Then there is the issue of consultation. I think many of us would say that this was a case of putting the cart before the horse. Normally you have a consultation, get the results, draft the legislation and then discuss it in the light of what has been discovered, but that has not happened here and we are going at it the other way around. Whether we like it or not, that is where we are. So I can see why, unsatisfactory though that approach is, in the circumstances, the Government cannot and do not want to pre-empt the results of that consultation.

Conversely, primary legislation, like buses, does not come along very often; the next Bill might be in another five or 10 years—it is 15 years since the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I discussed the Charities Act, and we have had probably had one since—but we need to send a signal of our support for community wealth funds. How do we balance those issues? I suggested that if the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, replaced “must” in his original drafting with “may”, that might provide an answer that would not force the Government, the Secretary of State and my noble friend on the Front Bench to set up a community wealth fund but would provide them with an option to do so in light of the consultation when they had the full outcome available. Since the noble Lord was kind enough to make that change, I am delighted to support his amendment.

Photo of The Bishop of Ely The Bishop of Ely Bishop

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is correct that my friend the Bishop of Newcastle has made her valedictory speech, but I have been permitted to speak on her behalf. Noble Lords may have noticed a certain discrepancy in height and volume between me and the Bishop of Newcastle but she is living proof that stature has nothing to do with size. I applaud my friend for her significant role as a Lord Spiritual and a community leader in Newcastle; the city has honoured her with the freedom of the city in recognition of her work.

In support of the amendment, we would like to say that the creation of community wealth funds, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, will strengthen community life in left-behind communities, including many in the diocese of Newcastle. Levelling-up investment, while welcome, has been largely about hard infrastructure but we want to see more investment in social infrastructure so that our communities can flourish. It is precisely that social infrastructure which could be provided by the community wealth funds, so they are already creating confidence in communities even if the consultation is yet to happen.

One of the key founder members of the Community Wealth Fund Alliance is a local trust that administers the Big Local programme, a programme that has inspired this community wealth fund proposal. The Big Local programme has been operating for 10 years and has generated considerable learning and evidence that could inform the design of the new pilot fund or funds that the amendment would enable.

The Big Local programme supports 150 neighbourhoods across the country that have each received just over £1 million in funding from the National Lottery Community Fund. That funding is placed directly into the hands of local residents, giving them the ability to make decisions about how to improve their neighbourhoods and their quality of life. Areas were selected on the basis that they suffered from higher-than-average levels of deprivation and had previously missed out on their fair share of lottery or other public funding.

An in-depth evaluation of 15 of the 150 Big Local areas half way through the programme outlined the benefits for individuals, groups and organisations and charted wider community change as a result of the funding and support offered. The benefits are considerable, including increased employment and access to employment opportunities, increased confidence and aspiration and reduced social isolation. The programme has also increased people’s sense of agency and belief in their own ability to make things happen.

The noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, will no doubt be aware that one of the 15 projects evaluated in depth is in Whitley Bay in the diocese of Newcastle. I should interpolate here that I am very interested in the continued development of Whitley Bay as it is where I intend to retire. Early on, Whitley Bay Big Local identified local people who would benefit from a community hub, a place to meet and enjoy a range of activities. The team worked hard to make this project a reality, and the right reverend Prelate Bishop of Newcastle and I would like to congratulate them. Recently, Big Local has received £300,000 of funding from the community partnership fund. This, together with funding from North of Tyne Combined Authority, will support the purchase and refurbishment of a building as its new eco-hub, enabling it to run more community activities. Whitley Bay Big Local has also worked with the local authority to identify improvements for the town centre and run volunteer-led projects to create these changes.

Thirty-five years ago, when I was a curate in Gateshead, members of our parish went for their fortnight’s holiday by taxi to Whitley Bay. It is very good that through the fund Big Local has established and supported Whitley Bay Carnival, which has become a sustainable annual event attracting thousands of visitors to the area. The community wealth fund proposal is not being plucked out of the air. The local trust has the expertise to deliver it, and it comes with the backing of over 450 organisations, including 40 local and combined authorities. The Big Local project has made such a difference in Whitley Bay and in communities all over the country.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 4:00 pm, 16th November 2021

It is a pleasure to be able to speak in support of the amendment. As Committee was quite a long time ago, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I repeat some arguments.

We are all committed to building back better—to coin a phrase—and the proposed community wealth fund or funds could be a valuable foundation, enabling us to tackle a range of inequalities and improve outcomes for the residents of our most disadvantaged areas. As such, they potentially have a key role to play in the levelling-up agenda, as already noted, as increasingly it is recognised that levelling up must involve not just physical but social infrastructure, as the right reverend Prelate has said. As the report from the Bennett Institute for Public Policy argues, social infrastructure brings

“economic, social and civic value”

—and, we might add, cultural value—to areas where such assets may be weak. According to the British Academy, of which I am a fellow, the pandemic has shown:

“National capacity to respond to changing circumstances and challenges requires effort to sustain a strong web of communities and community engagement at local levels.”

Community-led networks are vital for combating inequalities over the long-term and must be at the centre of plans to build back better.

Social infrastructure matters to people. There is a lot of evidence that the presence or absence of it makes a big difference to how people feel about their neighbourhoods and their satisfaction with them. In areas with strong social infrastructure—particularly places and spaces to meet, and community organisations—people feel a greater sense of community, civic pride and belonging. These areas are more neighbourly and more cohesive. They also have better health and employment outcomes.

The Minister may have seen the recent report from Onward, a right-of-centre think tank, entitled Turnaround. It draws a number of positive lessons from the Labour Government’s new deal for communities, one of which is that

“the most significant sustained improvements are those with the strongest base of civic assets and most engaged communities. This suggests that the government should pay much more attention to nurturing the social fabric of a place alongside economic interventions.”

It also emphasises the importance of

“social infrastructure within local places”.

If we are to build back better, we need to invest in social infrastructure in these deprived neighbourhoods. We need—as is the case with the proposed community wealth funds—this investment to be long-term so that it provides continuity. Crucially, as my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton said, we need it to be community- led, albeit with communities receiving appropriate support to build community confidence and capacity. Again, to quote the Onward report, one of the lessons from previous regeneration policies is that

“communities must have a stake in regeneration, not merely be consulted … community involvement is essential, but many are capacity constrained”.

I realise that the Government are reluctant for the Bill to be amended to specify the distribution of dormant assets—and I am supportive of the intended consultation which will be the subject of later amendments —but, as has already been explained, this is a permissive amendment. I can see no reason for the Government not to support it.

One of the reasons I am speaking in support of this amendment is because it has such widespread support, as has already been said by the right reverend Prelate. Those 450 organisations to which he referred are part of a growing alliance advocating for the fund. This includes 40 local and combined authorities, most of the major independent charitable funders and all the main civil society umbrella groups, including the NCVO.

Polling research by Local Trust—and I express my appreciation for the briefing that it provided—demonstrates that the proposal would have the support of senior leaders in the financial services industry.

The community wealth fund has also been recommended in reports from a large number of think tanks and inquiries, including Localis, the Centre for Cities, the Fabian Society, New Local, the No Place Left Behind commission and the Civil Society Futures inquiry. It has also been endorsed by the APPG for “Left Behind” Neighbourhoods, of which I am a member.

I acknowledge concerns expressed by those who use dormant asset funding for the work that they already do. However, I see no reason why they should not continue to do that work and receive funds because these are new funds and no one is arguing that the whole of them should be used for community wealth funds. Again, this is a permissive amendment, not one that requires specific action. Such a strong case has been made by so many civil society groups. There is a growing consensus that a community wealth fund, or funds, is much needed and that investment should come from dormant assets. I therefore urge the Government to listen to civil society and accept this modest amendment.

Photo of Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Green

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett. I think the case for this amendment has been powerfully made and I want to show the breadth of support for it.

Last night in the policing Bill we were debating how we saw a grass-roots-up initiative starting from Nottingham that saw the practice of recording misogyny as a hate crime. So many new ideas and innovations start with the local and start in local areas. Yet we live in one of the most centralised nations on this planet, certainly in Europe, with power and resources concentrated here in Westminster. This amendment very modestly puts power and resources out into places that desperately need them.

Often, we are talking about places that no longer have a place to meet—even the pubs have closed in many of the poorest communities that I see. Lots of housing has recently been built without any public meeting places and places for people to gather at all. What we are talking about here is giving power to local communities that are really struggling, to let them decide for themselves what they need to do. I think we could see some truly wonderful innovations starting from the community wealth fund that then could spread far more widely. Perhaps appropriately for a Green, let us think about throwing out some seeds and seeing some wonderful plants flourishing, flowering and growing.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

My Lords, when I initially heard about community wealth funds, I was rather sceptical, and I perhaps remain on the more sceptical end of the spectrum in your Lordships’ House. But during discussions on the Bill, I have become less sceptical about the idea, as the noble Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, have talked to me, along with the groups mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely.

Two things in particular have caused me to think again. The first is the experience of the pandemic and how everybody’s sense of locality and place has changed. I happen to live in south London, and one of the many things that got me through the toughest of times was discovering local parks that I had never come across before. Watching other people having to live their lives in a much more geographically restricted scope has made a new sense of place. I now understand —in a way that I perhaps did not before—that being able to appreciate and develop your community space will be a very important part of people’s physical, economic and mental well-being in future.

The second reason why I have changed my mind is this. The noble Baroness gave a long list of community initiatives that have flowed out over the past 30 years, many of them from the National Lottery, the new deal for communities and so on. Pretty much all of them were the release of resources into a community, with varying degrees of restriction on how they could be spent—but they were resources to be spent in poor communities.

This is about something different. It is about an investment fund that has to generate wealth within those communities. To do that, the people who will be managing it locally will have to learn and display economic development skills themselves. That is a different proposal from the ones before. The noble Baroness is right that, as we move through a huge period of economic change—green development and the green economy—if we get away from the old idea of development solely in buildings and talk about investment in economic skills and new jobs, managed in a much more local way, that has the potential to be different.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, was absolutely right: we had to grab a passing Bill and shove something on to it. But the very purpose of this Bill is to take assets that are lying dormant and put them into communities where people are financially excluded, do not have business skills or need some help with the generation of wealth and well-being. This is about doing that with people in their community, not yet another building. So I have changed my mind and think this is something different, and therefore I now think it is worthy of support.

Photo of Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts for tabling this amendment relating to community wealth funds. I am also grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely, who spoke on behalf of his right reverend friend, who, as he explained, has made her valedictory speech to your Lordships’ House and is therefore unable to speak today. I offer my best wishes to her as she leaves your Lordships’ House for a well-earned retirement and thank her for her contributions, both here in your Lordships’ House and across the diocese; it is one I hold particularly dear, having been baptised in it and having many relatives who live there still. I know that she will be much missed, but we are delighted that, through the apostolic succession, the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Ely was able to speak for her today.

I hope that, during my remarks, I can reassure all noble Lords who have spoken that it is already possible for community wealth funds to be a named cause in an order made under Section 18A, and that I can demonstrate why this amendment, even in its semi-skimmed form—if that is the evolution from the full-fat version to which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, alluded earlier—is still unnecessary.

This amendment and our debate today have made clear the support of many noble Lords for using the English portion of dormant assets funding to support communities with high levels of deprivation and low levels of social infrastructure. The scheme has spent the last decade working to tackle systemic social challenges and to level up communities that need it most—in particular, by targeting and benefiting areas that have in many ways been neglected or overlooked for too long. I was delighted that the right reverend Prelate shone a particular light on Whitley Bay and the good that funding can do. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, is right to underline how our sense of place, pride and value in our local communities has been accentuated during the pandemic.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, highlighted in Committee, we already have four distributors that can pass funds under the current rules of social investment to local community groups doing all kinds of activities. This, and more, is exactly what has been facilitated through the existing scheme. Over the past decade, more than £465 million has been invested in charities and social enterprises through the independent spend organisations. Big Society Capital and its co-investors have committed more than £84 million to help create thriving and inclusive communities, developing local solutions that meet local needs with the right kind of long-term finance and support. Communities are already supported through the scheme to use social business models to invest in their social infrastructure, which includes purchasing community buildings, as my noble friend Lord Hodgson and others mentioned, developing community spaces and installing community energy schemes.

Supporting front-line organisations to tackle deprivation, developing strong social infrastructure and initiatives at the local level, and embedding beneficiary decision-making into processes are already some of the broad priorities on which the scheme has distributed funds in England. Over the past decade, the scheme has built a compelling evidence base for these types of activity, and we are committed to ensuring that it continues to benefit the people and communities that need it most. We are also committed to affording everyone a fair opportunity to have their say on the purposes for which funds can be distributed. We are clear that a consultation is the best and most inclusive way to agree future spend priorities in England. The community wealth fund model could be one way in which to meet the priorities that have been outlined by noble Lords in our debate again today, but it is demonstrably not the only approach that could be taken. That is why the Government have consistently committed to considering all responses to the consultation without trying to predetermine its outcomes.

The consultation will provide the opportunity for the general public, the civil society sector, noble Lords and Members of another place, and industry bodies to express their views. The Government have tabled Amendment 3, which we will come to shortly, to ensure that the opportunity for broad and inclusive input must always be provided. I reassure noble Lords that we intend to consult widely to capture as many views as possible, taking particular care to welcome the voices of local communities, as noble Lords have suggested today. During the process of consultation, we will be keen to hear from everyone, including those who advocate the use of community wealth funds. If the consultation process finds that community wealth funds are the best use of dormant assets funding in England, the Bill is already designed to provide the most appropriate avenue to make that a reality. We think it would be inappropriate to undercut the process of consultation in the way that the amendment proposes. Naming any specific cause in the Bill without first asking for that wider impact would undermine the validity and open-mindedness of the consultation.

The issue is not to do with the cause itself, but rather the fundamental principle that people deserve to have a say in how the money should be spent in England. This was out of scope of the expansion consultation last year because youth and financial inclusion only began to receive dormant assets funding in December 2019. However, the responses made it clear that there are wide-ranging views on the best use of this money—not just community wealth funds—and these views deserve to be heard as well. Not hearing them would pose a serious risk to the success of the scheme, the voluntary participation of our industry partners, and the confidence of the general public.

I stress that the Government are not opposed to considering community wealth funds. We acknowledge that the core features of it—community decision-making at a hyperlocal level and investment in social infra- structure—have an important role to play in improving access to opportunities for everybody, particularly those in the more deprived communities. I have spoken today about some of the ways in which the scheme does that. However, the scheme also values evidence and data-driven decisions. We are aware that current evidence for community wealth funds, as well as concrete designs for how they would operate, are relatively sparse. My speaking notes do not actually include the words “new approach”, but as my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts used them, I will certainly point to them. We think that there is more work to be done in this area before a commitment can firmly be made. Further work is needed to establish how it would work and whether dormant-assets funding would be the right type of money to support it. That is why we feel that it is too soon to commit to including it as an explicit option in legislation in the way that this amendment proposes.

Officials at DCMS and Ministers will maintain engagement with those who are responsible for its development, notably local trusts. The levelling-up taskforce is working across Whitehall, including with DCMS, to establish evidence and identify activities to help support communities to level up, as part of the development of the White Paper. This includes whether and how a long-term sustainable funding model, with similar ambitions to Local Trust’s community wealth fund, could be established. More evidence-gathering and policy development needs to be done to determine if and how this could be achieved, including how it could be funded with sustainability and longevity in mind.

It is already possible under Clause 29 for community wealth funds to become recipients of dormant-assets funding in England. However, as I said, this should not happen without first consulting. We will come on to discussing the nature of this first consultation when we debate Amendments 3, 4, and 5, so I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I address those issues further then. I hope, however, that I can reassure noble Lords that we will ensure that this consultation provides the opportunity for people to respond with their view that community wealth funds would be their preferred course of action, if indeed it is.

In conclusion, we are not opposed to the concept of a community wealth fund, but for the reasons I have set out, we are not able to accept the noble Lord’s amendment. We are clear that a consultation is the best way to agree future spend priorities for England. Should the consultation process find that community wealth funds are indeed the best use of dormant-assets funding, the Bill is already designed to provide the most appropriate avenue to make that a reality. In this spirit of enabling everyone interested to have their say, I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) (Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and International Trade) 4:15 pm, 16th November 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. With the exception of the Minister—although not entirely with the exception of the Minister—all have been rather in support of the amendment. I listened very carefully to what the Minister had to say, and by the end of his speech I was almost convinced that he was going to agree with our side of the argument.

The key to this amendment is one word, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, touched on it: the word “may”. This amendment is extraordinarily modest. It just says to the Government, “Look, you may do this; you don’t have to”. For me, that is the key, because the Government may do it after a period of consultation. It does not seem to me to be a great leap of faith to encourage the creation of community wealth funds for social infrastructure in having the consultation that can take place at any time, where this provision actually enables the Government to be more active in supporting, if they wish at some later stage, the introduction of pilots running community wealth funds.

Noble Lords have all spoken to the importance of creating social infrastructure. That is what this amendment seeks to do, through ensuring that we create community wealth funds. That is the part that particularly attracts me to it, because in my day job as an employee of Business in the Community we seek to create levelling up through work in places. One essential thing we do not have ready access to is good, robust, sustainable funding. In future, I can see community wealth funds becoming exactly that.

It is critical that we provide communities with that hope and potential. Many of our poorest communities do not have the capacity to generate funds or the social infrastructure to enable them to develop as communities and grow the resilience and strength they need. The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, touched on this rather well in talking about her experiences during lockdown. I experienced similar feelings; well-managed, manicured open spaces provide you with a lifeline, inspiration and an ability to go out, enjoy fresh air and breathe and live again. Many of us had that experience, particularly during the first lockdown. Those things and places need nurturing and looking after. They are community assets, and something like community wealth funds will ensure that they are there and are well managed and looked after.

I will not detain the House too much longer. The noble Lord’s primary argument against the amendment was consultation. There is no reason why that cannot take place. It is already taking place. He also said that the power is already there; why not use this clause as a way of driving that and supplementing the power that is already there? It is useful in highlighting the importance and value of creating those community assets and ensuring that we have social infrastructure that works for local communities.

At an earlier stage of the Bill, the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, suggested that the ideas were not yet perfected. I do not think that is the case. That now seems to have fallen away from the Government’s range of arguments. I agree with the Minister that we need sustainable, long-term funding models. Some of those already exist, but this would add to and empower local communities in a very specific and direct way. It would not be top-down, but bottom-up. It would enable communities to thrive and do much to tackle the long-outstanding needs of some of those communities which are obviously in urgent need of levelling up.

For those reasons, I wish to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

Ayes 216, Noes 195.

Division number 1 Dormant Assets Bill [HL] - Report — Amendment 1

Aye: 216 Members of the House of Lords

No: 195 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Amendment 1 agreed.