The UK's elected local councillors answer to an average constituency of 2,600 voters. The equivalent constituency is 667 in Sweden, 250 in Germany and 116 in France. Local election turnout is 80% in Sweden and 70% in Germany; in the UK it runs around at 33%. All our political parties now agree that the excessive centralization of state power has damaged local democracy in Britain and that something must be done to pass power back down to people and communities.
Top down has failed
Scotland's Regeneration Policy "People and Place" emphasizes physical rather than social regeneration and the roles of the public and private sectors rather than communities. Audit Scotland's review of Community Planning Partnerships found that they are failing to engage effectively with communities and that half of them don't even have local representation. The review of the Government's Community Voices programme found it limited both in reach and effectiveness. The Community Sector in Scotland lacks overall co-ordination and is without a collective voice. As a result, it has been marginalized from mainstream policy development.
Local people leading
Despite the lack of support from central and local government, all across Scotland local people continue to organise and take action at a neighbourhhood level to improve their communities. Much of this activity is informal and unfunded, relying on the voluntary support of local people to sustain itself. More formal organisations such as housing associations and community trusts, also under the control and management of local people, often operate alongside this informal activity and provide the support and leadership to sustain it.
The scale and diversity of all this local activity creates the 'social glue' that binds a community together and generates the civic pride that people feel for the place they live. The Alliance believes that the importance of this contribution to the health and well-being of civil society is not sufficiently recognised nor supported by government. Indeed, the Alliance contends that much of this community led activity is routinely discouraged and resisted by local councils. Scotland needs a 'gathering point' where organisations and individuals who support community empowerment can join forces to campaign for change.