All Governments like to have a ‘big idea’ – some defining policy to remember them by - although as often as not they get absolutely nowhere before being quietly ditched. David Cameron’s Big Society or his ambition to be the greenest government ever spring to mind. Alex Salmond came up just short with his biggest of big ideas and it remains to be seen whether or when that one resurfaces. But if independence was THE big idea of the last Scottish Parliament, community empowerment has been the ‘slow burner’ since the 2007 elections. Trickling at glacial speed into public consciousness, the idea of a fundamental shift in power and resources away from the state and towards communities has always met with stiff resistance – for many it goes directly against the grain. Nevertheless, first we had the Scottish Government’s Action Plan in 2009 which, if nothing else, offered a clear statement of intent. And now, as Parliament begins winding down for the elections, that slow burner is finally coming to the boil with the new legislation (almost) ready for use. Many will find these changes deeply uncomfortable to work with. But as the saying goes – if you can’t stand the heat…
In the most recent briefing…
With only a few short months until communities have new powers to request that a public asset be transferred to them (to use, manage, lease or own) - effectively constraining a public body’s freedom to dispose of the asset on the open market – there are worrying signs that some Councils are being spooked into knee jerk reactions. After 4 years of careful negotiations with their Council, a local group in Blairgowrie have been gobsmacked to learn that the only thing that really matters is the Council’s bottom line.
Food is rarely off the front pages these days. If it’s not the scandal of food poverty and the proliferation of food banks, it because we’re eating too much of one thing or not enough of another. Nourish Scotland, with their focus on promoting local sustainable food, recognise the need for urgent action on many different food fronts and in particular have been trying to shift the debate towards what actions communities can take to address these challenges. Nourish spell these out in a short paper and and highlight one community for special mention.
Why do we so rarely read this sort of headline? Local council overturns luxury homes proposal in favour of much loved children’s meadow. Multiple health and social benefits for local community win the day. There are of course lots of good reasons why housing developers need permission to build houses but there are times when these planning decisions seem deliberately antagonistic and almost vindictive in nature. The long running case of North Kelvin Meadow may finally have reached its end.
A windswept promontory on the most northerly tip of the Western Isles has been owned by the Ministry of Defence since the 1950’s. It’s been many years since Gallan Head saw active service as a listening post for Russian subs during the cold war. Last month this tiny community voted overwhelmingly in favour of buying the base from the MOD - with plans to continue its listening role but this time only for whale songs. A modest crowdfunding appeal has been launched to fit out a tea room.
Commenting on the unexpected decision of Community Development Foundation to shut up shop, Senscot raises a related question which merits more attention than it usually gets. And that concerns the extent to which the independence of our sector is compromised by the ‘contracts’ so many of us have with government. This issue applies at all levels. The community group and a service level agreement with a local authority or a national intermediary contracted to run a national programme. How would we know if we’ve crossed that line and become merely an arm of Government?
An eye-catching headline last week from YouthLink Scotland claiming that youth work contributes £656m to the Scottish economy. It seems odd to measure the value of working with young people in cash terms but it’s a trend that is on the rise. Nowadays the most unlikely activity can be found reporting miraculous returns on a minuscule amount of public investment – all based on proxies that can never be fully substantiated. While we all need to demonstrate value for money, there’s a danger that the intrinsic value of our work is overlooked.
The Climate Challenge Fund has been one of success stories in recent years - getting cash into the hands of local people who want to tackle the threat of climate change is an important part of the overall jigsaw. But announcing the fund is to re-open on a Friday (29th Jan) and giving communities a 7 day turnaround to get their ideas worked up and submitted (5th Feb) suggests a serious lack of planning on the part of someone. Some communities need much more time than others to get themselves organised.
The stark contrast between Scotland’s two key economic development agencies – Scottish Enterprise and Highland and Islands Enterprise – is one of the great mysteries of our time. HIE, celebrating their 50th anniversary, are credited with transforming the fortunes of their region. Central to their approach has been an understanding that economic development is not an isolated discipline and that social, cultural and community development are all interlinked. For some reason SE have consistently dismissed these ideas out of hand. Why?
Muirkirk is a rural village set in the border of East Ayrshire and South Lanarkshire. At one time Muirkirk was a hive of industry with coalmining, rail connections and ironworks. But the end of the mine industry resulted in widespread unemployment and the village suffered from relatively high levels of poverty and Muirkirk was rated as one of the most deprived areas of Scotland by the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation 2003. At that time the village experienced an unemployment rate of 30 per cent. This has now been reduced to 10%.
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...