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November 5, 2008

Civil Servant Rebutts Senscot Claim

A recent edition of the Senscot Bulletin claimed that Scottish Government has delegated the community empowerment agenda to COSLA – ‘‘as if it’s a subset of local government policy’’. This has been challenged by Alasdair McKinlay from the Government`s Housing and Regeneration Division. It would be good to hear more from them about the progress of community empowerment.

Response from Alasdair McKinlay

Dear Laurence,

In last week’s bulletin you said that the Scottish Government had charged COSLA to come up with proposals on how citizens should be empowered. A similar statement appeared in a recent edition of Newstart magazine. This is a misconception that I’m keen to clear up for your readers.

In the spirit of the concordat, the Government is working closely with COSLA as part of the development of the community empowerment action plan that will be launched early next year. We were very encouraged that as part of that joint working COSLA themselves took the decision to set up a Community Empowerment working group of senior elected members. This signals for us how seriously Local Government are taking the agenda.

As you also know, we have been very keen to solicit ideas and suggestions on community empowerment from the third sector and we were very pleased that Local People Leading took the time to offer a range of suggestions. It was very encouraging that the last meeting of the COSLA working group considered and were supportive of a range of ideas from LPL on how to support communities to own assets. I am also very encouraged that LPL are represented on COSLA’s working group and have the opportunity to feed in their views to the debate direct to elected members.

This kind of close joint working between Government in Scotland – national and local – and our colleagues from the community and voluntary sectors is new and challenging. There may be times when we don’t get everything right. But the Scottish Government is clear that it is the only way forward to develop this complex and exciting agenda, and we look forward to continuing to work with the representatives of community groups as we take the debate forward.

Alasdair McKinlay
Scottish Government

Scottish Government accused of ‘lethargy’ over empowerment, new start, 15.10.08

Third sector leaders have accused the Scottish Government of being lethargic about community empowerment, claiming ministers would rather people were ‘passive and compliant’.

In April ministers and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities pledged to work together on a community empowerment action plan to provide capacity-building programmes and help residents acquire assets.

Although the plan is not expected until early next year, community leaders say progress has become ‘invisible’ and they fear it will be forgotten unless more pressure is put on ministers.

Local People Leading (LPL), a community sector coalition comprising the Development Trusts Association Scotland and social enterprise network Senscot, this week said the action plan’s announcement ‘was light on detail and didn’t commit any party to do anything they couldn’t reasonably argue they were doing already’.

‘It’s a starting point but there’s still a big question mark over just how much genuine commitment there is towards community empowerment.

We need to get some indication, both from local government and national government, that there is real enthusiasm and commitment for this agenda.’

LPL spokesperson, Angus Hardie, said the situation contrasted with England where there have been recent announcements, including details of a new asset transfer unit last month and July’s empowerment white paper.

LPL said Scotland’s action plan should include a new asset transfer fund for councils to help them refurbish properties for transfer to community ownership.

It also called for a national capacity-building programme, investment in community-led organisations in the poorest areas, and extra training for community development workers.

Laurence Demarco, founder director of Senscot, said the Scottish National Party (SNP) did not understand community empowerment.

‘The SNP is no less “municipalist” than the previous administration. They think the council should do everything and control everything and the community should be grateful recipients. They want a passive, compliant and grateful population,’ he said.

Details of the plan will be announced ‘in due course’, according to the Scottish Government.

A spokesperson said: ‘Scotland is in many respects ahead of England on this agenda, for example, in the fact that we have developed national minimum standards for community engagement, which have just been the subject of a very positive external evaluation.’