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4th December 2019

Does Scotland’s community sector really need to be so big? This was the provocation from Andy Wightman MSP at last week’s Community Action on Climate Conference as he bemoaned the continued absence of any meaningful tier of government that can realistically claim to be ‘local’ and hold sufficient powers to make decisions that matter. Nowhere in Europe, he argued, is there anything like the scale of voluntary effort that we see in our communities – the norm is for citizens to engage much more actively with their municipalities and to demand much more of their elected representatives. That, he claimed, is how a local response to the climate emergency would unfold in any normal democracy. That’s as maybe, but while the unpredictable and ad hoc nature of our sector clearly grates with the local democracy purists, the principle of local people self-organising and taking action on local issues is far too embedded for it not to be an integral part of the emerging Scottish model of local governance. Finance, function and form will all have to be in the final mix. It will almost certainly be messy but if it works, who cares?   A mongrel democracy for a mongrel nation.

In the most recent briefing…

  • Policy talk

    Investing in Communities

    A longstanding criticism of Scottish Government’s funding of the community sector has been the lack of coherence in the way that funding flows to communities from different parts of government, via different application processes and often with different monitoring systems etc. As such the Investing in Communities Fund, conflating five different funds into one big pot, was seen as a significant step in the right direction. But from early reports it’s clear that, however well-intended, this process needed more time and planning to make it work. Here’s a pretty measured account of one community’s unhappy experience.

  • Policy talk

    No profit from public service

    The big issue that seems to have momentarily diverted the general election spotlight away from ‘getting it done’ is whether the NHS market will be opened up for corporate interests to feast upon (more than they do at present).  And when President Trump declares America wouldn’t be interested even if served up on a ‘ silver platter,’ it’s probably time to worry. But outsourcing public services doesn’t necessarily have to line the pockets of shareholders. Procurement officers might like to take note of a major new survey of public opinion which argues strongly that public contracts should go to social enterprise.

  • Policy talk

    Socially smart cities

    Interesting piece of research just published which looked at four cities – Copenhagen, Glasgow, Amsterdam and Birmingham – and explored how and why certain key individuals have such an impact in being able to bring local people together around common concerns and innovative solutions. Using the jargon of Smart Urban Intermediaries this study identified key local people as the intermediaries and examined their role in creating or animating social innovations to address local concerns within their urban communities. 

  • Policy talk

    Crisis? What crisis?

    There is an increasingly popular narrative amongst writers and commentators on the left that capitalism is collapsing, that with wealth inequalities becoming ever more extreme we are finally starting to wake up to this reality and cast around for alternative systems by which to live our lives. For many that might be a comfort, that some kind of natural evolutionary process of economics is underway which will result in a new and fairer system. Writing in the Guardian Branko Milanovic agrees that capitalism is facing a crisis, but just not the one that is being so widely predicted. 

  • On the ground

    Call for Action

    Last week, a sell out conference in Edinburgh considered the vexed question of what communities should do in response to the climate emergency. The tone for the day was set with a call to action from Esther Silverton, a 16 year old youth climate striker, who spoke with real passion as she pointed the finger of responsibility at her audience. This Communities Call for Action was launched during the conference and communities everywhere are encouraged to sign. Most of the day was spent considering what action communities might take. This recent publication from CRNS provides a few pointers. 

  • On the ground

    The Lido lives on

    Once upon a time, the communities that sit at the foot of the Cowal Peninsula were popular with Glaswegians escaping  ‘doon the watter’ to enjoy the fresh air of the Firth of Clyde. The paddle steamers have long since stopped visiting and life has become much quieter.   And partly because of this, the locals have lived with the threat of losing the community’s only shop and Post Office – an event which many feared could spell the end of community life. Two years of hard slog and one successful community shares offer later, they took the keys earlier this week.

  • On the ground

    Food poverty

    At a recent conference on community wealth and well-being, Cranhill Development Trust offered  a brief insight into the lived experience of poverty in their community. In their recently opened community shop, items like toilet rolls that normally come in multi-packs are split up and sold as single items. They even weigh out vegetables into one meal packs  along with individually measured sachets of herbs and spices. The campaign to make the universal human right of access to food into a reality in Scotland by enshrining it in Scots law is gathering pace.

  • On the ground

    EPIC sounds

    Anyone who has organised a conference that stretches over two days and involves a dinner will know the dilemma of whether to provide some form of entertainment for delegates. My instinct is generally to veer away from laying anything on – just let folk get on with their conversations and networking. But I was outvoted recently when a social enterprise choir were commissioned to make a surprise end-of-meal appearance. Shameless plug  for SoundSational – book ‘em! They are sensational. Scotland’s vibrant voluntary arts scene held its annual awards night in Edinburgh recently. Some worthy winners.