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July 2, 2008

Community Empowerment in Scotland

Scottish Government has decided to take forward its community empowerment policy in tandem with COSLA. The specific forum for developing this agenda will be a community empowerment task group chaired by COSLA on which LPL will be represented


Community Empowerment Task Group – Remit

1. To provide the background to the creation of the Community Empowerment Task Group and recommend to the group a proposed remit.
The task group is invited to:
i) note the background to the creation of this group;
ii) discuss the remit proposed in this paper and suggest any changes;
iii) agree a remit for the group.
2. The Scottish Government has committed itself to taking forward work on Community Empowerment. COSLA and the Scottish Government have since last year been discussing at both officer and political level, how such a programme of work can be taken forward.

3. From COSLA’s point of view Community Empowerment has been approached as an ethos which should be a fundamental part of the way in which local government undertakes its business. Indeed, the new joint working arrangement with the Scottish Government under the Concordat and the accompanying move to Single Outcome Agreements provides both an opportunity and a need to involve communities in the development of these agreements and to play a role in determining the local outcomes that each council will focus on.

4. By 2009 all Community Planning Partnerships will have signed up to a Single Outcome Agreement. Community engagement is a fundamental pillar of community planning work, this work on community empowerment is seen as the next step in further building the capacity of communities to actively engage at the local level.

5. Empowerment however is not a stand alone aim, it is valued for its potential impact on an unlimited number of policy areas, from the anti-social behaviour and anti-poverty agendas, to improving health inequalities and improved local service delivery. An empowered community will by definition have more say with regards to whatever issues are most important to them.

6. Civil servants, at the direction of Ministers, recently conducted a series of events and stakeholder meetings as part of a wide-ranging dialogue across Scotland. This process concluded in December last year and was intended to produce a series of practical steps that need to be taken to develop the Community Empowerment agenda. Feedbcak from this process helped to shape broad proposals that Ministers and COSLA have now agreed.

7. Leaders received a report from the Community Well-being and Safety Executive Group at their meeting on Feb 22nd recommending a set of high-level principles to underpin discussion with the Scottish Government including the need for a single, integrated approach to community empowerment which recognizes the need for an inclusive, responsive and flexible approach which will best meet local needs. The report expressed the agreed position of this Executive Group that there are a range of existing and potential community-based vehicles – tenants’ groups, local fora, community councils, youth groups, for example – for taking forward community empowerment across Scotland. The report made it clear that COSLA would not support an approach where local authorities were directed to devolve power or resources to community councils.

Meeting with Stewart Maxwell MSP, Minister for Communities and Sport
8. Councillor Harry McGuigan met with Stewart Maxwell MSP, Minister for Communities and Sport on the 4th of March to discuss amongst other issues, the Government’s proposals for community empowerment. At this meeting Councillor McGuigan outlined to Mr Maxwell that COSLA was broadly supportive of the concept of empowerment but would have considerable difficulties with any plans to devolve funding decisions specifically to community councils as the sole route to community empowerment. Further he outlined the principles agreed by this Executive Group for empowerment including the view that the community council workstream and the community empowerment workstream should be brought together and that community councils should only be one of several routes to community empowerment.

9. Mr Maxwell informed Councillor McGuigan that there is no intention to direct that community councils should have funding decisions devolved to them; that this was an issue for local authorities to discuss with their community councils; that there is no mention of community councils in the concordat and therefore no expectation on councils to devolve powers in that specific way; and that the Scottish Government agrees that the workstream on community councils should be brought together with the community empowerment workstream such that community councils are just one of many options for empowerment, alongside the full range of community groups.

Forward Actions

10. Following the meeting, Councillor McGuigan and the Minister agreed a draft joint statement of high level commitment to community empowerment between COSLA and the Scottish Government. In addition to the high level commitment, this statement includes an action plan and highlights examples of good practice.

11. The Community Well-Being and Safety Executive Group and Leadership Board have now agreed to proceed with this joint statement on community empowerment and that this work will be over-seen by the Community Empowerment Task Group. This Task Group will report back to the Executive Group and Leaders as appropriate.

12. A letter including the joint statement and action plan will by the time of the first meeting of the Community Empowerment Task Group have been distributed to a wide range of stakeholders including Council Chief Executives.

Task Group Remit
The proposed remit for the group:
• Consider the implications of the joint statement and action plan agreed between COSLA and Scottish Government for Local Authorities;
• Further develop this high level action plan and propose ways of implementing it at the local level;
• Consider examples of good practice;
• Develop proposals jointly with the Scottish Government to progress work in this area;
• Input into related areas with upon which Community Empowerment work impacts, e.g. anti-social behaviour agenda, anti-poverty strategy, etc.
• Report to the Community Well-Being and Safety Executive group, Leaders and others as appropriate.

Task Group Membership
Cllr Peter Duncan CON Dumfries and Galloway
Cllr Scott Farmer SNP Stirling
Cllr Allan Hendry SNP Aberdeenshire
Cllr Kathy Morrice SNP East Ayrshire
Cllr Charlie Nicolson IND Western Isles
Cllr George Freeman IND Argyll and Bute
Cllr Mary Montague LAB East Renfrewshire
Cllr Paul Johnston SLD Aberdeenshire
Cllr Ian Brown SLD Stirling
Cllr Harry McGuigan (Chair) LAB North Lanarkshire
Stewart Murdoch Chair CDAS
Rebecca Spillane Equalities Officer
East Lothian Equalities Officers Network
Sue Bruce Chief Executive
East Dunbartonshire SOLACE
Graham Johnstone Senior Officer Community Development
Glasgow CLDMS

The Community Empowerment Task Group is asked to discuss the above remit, propose any changes and agree the remit of the group.

Kristen Miller
Policy Officer
0131 474 9247


Extract from LPL position statement on community empowerment

6.08 Opportunities for ownership and control

As a community becomes empowered – when it has the capacity to do things for itself and exert real influence over local issues – more often than not tangible assets of some sort will also be under community ownership and control. There are few examples of sustainable community empowerment which are not underwritten by an independent, locally controlled income stream. In recent years the policy climate has not always been in favour of communities acquiring assets, but several models are now shown to work and offer opportunities for expansion.

6.09 Community owned housing associations

Particularly when they diversify into wider activities and services, COHAs can be the engine to regenerate struggling communities. Housing and regeneration strategies should be built on the community empowerment potential of the community owned HA model that was initiated in Scotland.

6.10 The ownership of commercial and social buildings

This is probably the most common trigger for community empowerment. This can vary from a single shop or even a hut – to thousands of square feet of workspaces. This model has high potential as there will always be some surplus and underused council properties.

6.11 The ownership of land

Particularly in rural areas, this can be a catalyst which galvanizes communities into action. With the 2003 Land Reform Act, Scotland leads the field in this area – but aspects of the Act don’t work well and needs revisited along with legislation relating to the management Common Good funds across Scotland’s ancient royal burghs.

6.12 Control and ownership of renewable energy production

This presents a unique opportunity for communities to establish a long term income stream and thereby a degree of financial sustainability. Highland & Islands Community Energy Company (HICEC) is proving the success of this model in rural areas and there is no reason why it could not be replicated in our cities.

6.13 Community owned social enterprises

Community owned social enterprises are active across Scotland in a variety of markets including: transport, recycling, childcare, training, care of vulnerable citizens, recreation, education, land management etc. Community businesses help communities build their capacity and confidence and can help to establish a local culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship.