Opinion is divided over Scotland’s 1200 community councils – a brave last stand for local democracy or a wasted effort on the part of thousands of local people? Back in 1973, when local government was being restructured into much larger, more centralised blocks of administration, setting up community councils was a sop to those who cried foul at the dismantling of local democracy. And twenty years later, when local government stepped even further away from its roots after yet more ‘reorganisation’, community councils, invested with neither resources nor responsibilities, were left to wither on the vine. Except they didn’t wither. Despite decades of official neglect, thousands of local people have stayed committed to this most local tier of democracy. While the new community empowerment legislation studiously avoided any serious mention of community councils, the next two pieces of legislation lined up by Scottish Government – a new Planning Bill and a Decentralisation Bill – would be scarcely credible if they were to follow suit. This moment has been a long time coming and whatever the outcome, we can be sure there will be as many agin it as for it. One thing is certain though, it’s make or break time for community councils.
In the most recent briefing…
No one seems absolutely clear about the nature of Common Good land and in particular, the issue of ownership. Do local authorities actually hold title over Common Good assets or is it more a form of stewardship on behalf of the people? As new opportunities open up for communities to request the transfer of public assets, the thorny question of Common Good will inevitably arise. What’s clear is that just because an asset is part of the Common Good, it shouldn’t be a barrier to local development. That’s what they are hoping for in Leith.
When trying to understand the nature of community or why some civic activities work better than others, we often focus on what is measurable or, in some ways, tangible. But under the surface of what happens in a community, lies a complex web of human emotions and relationships. Perhaps a better understanding of their influence and interplay would lead to a better understanding of community. A fascinating new report by Carnegie UK and JRF into the potential for building kinder communities and the power of everyday relationships.
One of the lessons learnt from the early land reform legislation was that simply establishing a Community Right to Buy was not in itself sufficient to ensure communities would avail themselves of their new legal rights. These opportunities needed to be promoted widely and support and encouragement offered to help communities take advantage of it. It’s one of the reasons that we now have COSS – established by DTAS to help both communities and public bodies negotiate the asset transfer maze. Anyone even thinking about embarking on the asset transfer journey should get along to the 3 R’s Roadshow.
With a population of around 15,000, the Govanhill community is both one of the most disadvantaged and ethnically diverse populations in the country - at the last count there were 53 distinct languages spoken across its schools. So it’s no surprise that local anchor organisation, Govanhill Community Development Trust, is delivering a range of services that are as diverse as its population. The Trust has just been awarded nearly half a million pounds by the Lottery to fund its work with Roma and Slovakian families.
Those who extol the virtues of tapping into the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ may have had their confidence in the value of collective intelligence slightly shaken by recent events. But if the response to Brexit is (depending on how you voted) that we should just hand over all responsibility for the big decisions to our elected representatives, then what’s the point of encouraging participation? In some respects, Brexit fired a shot right to the heart of the tension between participative and representative democracy. An interesting blog from Julie Simon at Nesta tries to unpick some of the tangle.
A great misnomer in the world of health and social care is Self-Directed Support (SDS). In theory, this means that once a person has been assessed as being eligible to receive a package of care, that person should be able to decide for themselves what care they receive, when they receive it and from whom. Except it doesn’t seem to work like that. In most parts of the country it’s more a case of Get-What-Your-Given Support. That said, the principle of SDS holds huge promise. A timely article from Simon Duffy calls for much closer connections between SDS and community.
We seem to accept some things as if they are simply the inevitable by-product of progress –technological or otherwise. One of these relates to the mass closure of local branches by our high street banks (is it possible to be a high street bank without a high street presence?) Why we believe anything the banks tell us after all they have done is in itself a bit of a mystery, but dig a little deeper into the facts and it becomes clear that there are plenty of reasons to argue that banks should maintain their high street presence.
Although no one has been able to articulate what Brexit means, it is only when you drill down into the plethora of collaborative relationships, developed over the decades, that you begin to get a sense of what we stand to lose. The European Small Islands Federation (ESIN) draws together small island federations from 11 countries involving 1640 island communities. At their conference last month in Brussels, Europe’s small islands were described as potential beacons of our low carbon future. Ironically, the newly elected chair of ESIN hails from Eigg.
As the tide went out on the shipbuilding history of Govan, many families in the community were left without work and meaning. Modern Govan has been left high and dry by this post-industrial legacy; roots are being lost, values are becoming blurred, and the fast-flowing current of modern life is leaving many behind. GalGael was founded in 1997 and has worked since then to create a cultural anchor point around which local people are re-kindling skills, community and a sense of purpose.
GalGael offer hospitality to the marginalised, a sense of place to the disconnected and the right of responsibility to the disenfranchised. They offer a chisel so that even the unskilled can carve out a future.
Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.
The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...