When Stephen Hawking declared the only thing that gives real meaning and purpose to life is work, he may have been pondering the next great challenge of our time – a society that no longer has sufficient (paid) work for its people. Within 30 years, it’s reckoned that advances in artificial intelligence will have wiped out more than half the jobs we currently do. Our age-old dependency on ‘paid work’ as the measure of our intrinsic worth to society will be broken and some bold and radical thinking will be needed to help us adapt. That’s why experiments like those taking place in Finland and being planned for in Glasgow and Fife are so important. The idea that every citizen could have an absolute right to a basic income is profoundly disruptive on many different levels. Firstly, it would signal a revolution in how we, as individuals, choose to contribute to society. It would also present massive challenges to those who run our economy, redefining what is of value and what isn’t. And as for the bean counters who demand that the case for community ownership must be made purely in financial terms, even their end may be nigh. Bring it on.
In the most recent briefing…
When Derek Mackay MSP was Communities Minister he often argued that the myriad funding streams that support community action could make more impact if they were more joined up. His new job as Finance Minister should help him fulfil that ambition. In that role, he also has overall responsibility for the £10bn that Scottish Government spends annually on procuring goods and services. Getting better access to that budget has long been an ambition of the sector. A new joint project with Senscot and others aims to make the size of your organisation no barrier to realising that ambition.
The momentum behind participatory budgeting shows no sign of slowing. Work is currently underway across 25 local authority areas exploring how it can be made to fit local priorities. Whatever form it takes (and there are many different approaches being pursued), it always seems to whet the appetite for more. As a further boost, a new national campaign has just been launched to sign up PB champions in every part of the country. There's training on offer, opportunities to network and learn from around the country, and even the potential to earn some income. Potential recruits would seem to abound in Aberdeen.
Scotland’s common good remains a relatively unexplored hinterland. The Community Empowerment Act gives it a passing mention, placing a requirement on each council to keep a record of whatever common good assets they hold. And that’s no small matter – recent estimates suggest the value of Scotland’s common good is as much as £300m. The disposal of common good assets is supposed to involve much greater transparency and higher levels of community approval than normal. Those communities fighting to save Dundee’s famous Caird Park would happily settle for a bit of what passes elsewhere as ‘normal’.
When the Scottish Government signalled its intent to extend the principles of land reform, and in particular the community right to buy, into the urban areas of Scotland no one thought it would be easy. Cities are more complex places for all sorts of reasons, not least because land values are so much higher than elsewhere. And nowhere will the Government’s commitment to community ownership be tested more than on a prime site in the centre of Edinburgh - one that is coveted by every housing developer in the country.
One of the false starts in my early working life was when I started training as an auditor. The only thing I remember from that episode was being slightly disconcerted by a senior colleague who informed me that any set of accounts was little more than a story that could be told in different ways. What I took away from that experience (other than a mistrust of accountants) was that nothing of a financial nature is necessarily as it seems. If we choose to give balance sheet value to something, it has, ipso facto, value. A park, for instance.
For any community, even the most engaged and well informed, it’s a tall order these days to keep on top of all the ‘opportunities’ that are being made available through new legislation, endless consultations and the myriad funding streams from different parts of government. There’s a strong case for someone to take responsibility for a national roadshow of events which would pull it all together, identifying the connections and big themes so that it makes sense from a community’s perspective. In the meantime, fine efforts to disseminate bits of the big picture occasionally appear.
In this digital age, with its endless stream of blogs, e-newsletters (guilty) and other forms of social media, it’s easy to forget the value of other forms of media and in particular the print media. With circulation numbers plummeting for daily newspapers, the occasional magazine has become an almost forgotten format. Most of the trade journals for the third sector target the mega-charity market but one that has recently popped up on the radar and which seems well tuned to our sector is STIR – the magazine for the new economy. Worth a quick peek.
While Scottish local authorities are coming under ever more intense financial pressure, in England the cuts have been inflicted over a longer timeframe and have been even deeper. With grants from Westminster being reduced in some instances by almost 50%, many councils have been driven to become ever more self-sufficient and to rethink their role as drivers of the local economy. Even with the level of enforced reductions in spending power, being prepared to make simple changes to longstanding practices has been transformative. Preston City Council, using good old common sense, are now being heralded as visionary.
When in 2003 Newlands Primary School was threatened with closure, a parents group worked to convince the Council to save the school. The group was also concerned for the wellbeing of their rural community: isolation, distance from facilities and services, and a lack of employment opportunities, all impact significantly on the quality of life there. In 2007 the Trust was formed to develop a stronger sense of community and to improve general wellbeing in the area. Funding was secured from The Big Lottery and the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) to build a community centre adjacent to the local primary school. The centre opened in 2011, since when the Newlands Activity Centre has been at the heart of the community. In 2013 Scottish Borders Council transferred ownership of the old Newlands Memorial Hall to NCDT to use for the benefit of the community.
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...