Despite endless rumination over why voters on both sides of the Atlantic chose to deliver such a spectacular kicking to their respective systems, we’re really none the wiser. Complacency by establishment elites, rampant and growing inequality, mendacity and the emergence of post-truth politics have all been cited and each probably played a part. But the thing about living in a democracy is that it behoves each and every one of us to play our part. And generally, in this country, we don’t. As George Bernard Shaw once observed, ‘democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’ While we can only sit back and watch the Trump Presidency unfold and soon enough, learn what Brexit really means, we can surely do something about our continuing disconnect with our most local tier of democracy. Despite the extent to which local councils impact on our daily lives, recent research from ERS indicates that many of us would rather do the ironing than cast our votes in the forthcoming elections. If we can’t be bothered to make democracy work when it's at its most local, then perhaps Shaw called it right - we'll end up with what we deserve.
In the most recent briefing…
This feels like a landmark moment. For almost twenty years a community group had been at loggerheads with their council over what should happen to a plot of land. Both sides, it could be argued, had a legitimate case. The Council see the land as an asset to be sold on the open market to generate a much needed capital receipt. Locals view it as a vital community asset that for many years has generated significant social and environmental benefits. After a formal planning inquiry, Scottish Government Ministers announced their ruling on the case just before Christmas.
With the focus of public policy increasingly centred on community control over assets and local services, it seems strange that there’s been so little interest in pro-typing new models of partnership between the public and community sectors in order to create new infrastructure. It’s as if the whole procurement system is stuck in the belief that new infrastructure can only be delivered by the private sector. Perhaps recent developments at Strontian will be a portent of things to come.
In this throw away age, the skills of sewing and darning to prolong the life of odd bits of clothing may be something of a lost art but stitching can still come in very handy as a means of bringing a community together. Most notably the recent high profile tapestry projects conceived by public artist Andrew Crummy which drew together stitchers from communities across Scotland. More recently, the folk of Shapinsay, inspired by Glasgow artist Dierdre Nelson have been honing their stitching skills to produce a map of their island.
Last September, Scottish Government published its statistics recording where the highest (and lowest) levels of multiple deprivation can be found in Scotland. SIMD data is very precise and highly accessible and as a result those communities with the highest levels of disadvantage were quickly identified by the press. Being labelled a ‘poverty blackspot’ does nothing for an area’s self-image and ignores so many of the strengths that every community posesses. Andy Milne at SURF proposes a counterweight to SIMD which focuses on a community’s assets and aspirations – SIMAA.
Some major new European funding programmes were launched last week by Scottish Government’s Third Sector Unit. The £9.7m Social Economy Development Programme is comprised of the Social Economy Growth Fund and the Social Innovation Challenge Fund. The closing date for the first round of applications is 17th February. These ESF funds will run alongside and compliment an additional ESF fund - the £18.9 Aspiring Communities Fund – to be launched later this month. While this new funding is very welcome, SCA and other third sector stakeholders are concerned as to the practicability of the scheme and about one aspect in particular.
The distinction between the private and public sector is never more blurred than when it comes to the financing of major capital projects. In the early days of Public Private Partnerships (PPP), this approach to financing new schools and hospitals was justified in the name of ‘ spreading the risk’ although others were more blunt, calling it the ‘dripping roast on which private contractors feasted’. The model has been refined since then but it seems that significant ‘profit’ continues leak away from the public purse. Investigative online journalists at The Ferret have shone new light on these practices.
No one seriously disputes that unless we completely rethink our approach to social care within the next few years, the system will collapse. With demand increasing and budgets being squeezed ever tighter, that collapse may come sooner than we think. Even if we could afford it, some estimates suggest that if future demand is to be met, every school leaver would have to enter the care industry. What's clear is that radically different approaches are required - and quickly. Martin Sime at SCVO offers some thoughts on where the future direction might lie.
During the consultation leading up to last year’s Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, the proposal to receive the highest level of support (87% of respondents), was that Scottish Government should publish a Statement of Land Rights and Responsibilities. This Statement is intended to provide a coherent framework of guiding principles and a vision of where land reform is heading in the future. If framed in the correct way, it could provide the long term momentum for land reform that many feel has been missing in the past. The consultation closes on 10th March.
From the 1850s, Coalburn developed as a railway settlement associated with the local coal mines. With the closure of the last colliery in 1968 and the railway closure in 1971, the village suffered from unemployment and isolation and the population declined significantly. The Coalburn Miners’ Charitable Society, which is at the heart of the community with many of the town’s population registered as members, has an important role in providing resources and leadership. An example of a community-led initiative is the One Stop Shop which houses a community shop and food cooperative, café, and a weekly South Lanarkshire Council Question & Answer Service.
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...