November 30, 2011
Some action is needed
Community councils were established after local government reorganisation in 1973 swept aside the more locally based structures of government such as district and burgh councils. Community councils were intended as a bridge between communities and the new system. But with a fifth of them not functioning at all, 90% of the rest never holding elections and the national umbrella body shutting up shop next year, something is clearly wrong. What’s not so clear is what to do
AROUND a fifth of Scotland’s 1,514 community councils are not currently operating because of a lack of interest from the public, new research has found.
And 90 per cent of those that are in operation do not have elections.
Concerns were raised this week that Scotland’s community councils are increasingly undemocratic and likely to cease to exist at all.
Community councils have a statutory role in planning, licensing and other areas. However, the research, uncovered by the BBC, found that most communities are not represented through them.
Only eight council areas still have all their community councils operating, with 229 community councils currently suspended nationwide.
The least number of community councils is in Dundee City, where only 15.8 per cent currently operate. North Lanarkshire has the second lowest at 47.5 per cent.
Rural areas seem to be more committed to the continuation of the schemes – all the community councils in Orkney continue to operate and 55 per cent hold regular elections.
Vincent Waters, president of the Association of Scottish Community Councils (ASCC), said that the councils need to attract more younger people.
“What you get varies massively,” he said. “You can have one operating incredibly effectively that’s championing a range of local causes. And then you can have a community council next door where it’s half a dozen or so of the weel kent local worthies whose interests are their own interests.”
Waters said community councils need a greater sense of purpose and more legislative powers in order to become attractive to younger people.
“If community councils stay as they are just now, within 10 years time – give or take – they’ll be dead,” he said.
The ASCC also recently announced it would be closing in April 2012, leaving no national body to support community councils.
The Scottish Government, however, has indicated it is creating a working group on the future of community councils.
Local government minister Aileen Campbell said: “They’re an important body within the governance of our country and we need to support them and make sure they’re the best that they can be,” she said.
“We just need to find out what ways we can best support community councils to make sure that they can flourish and to make sure that folk know that these are good things to get involved with.”