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December 14, 2011

Life in community councils yet

In the last Briefing we carried a story suggesting that Scotland’s community councils were in need of radical overhaul. While the national umbrella body seems locked in a dispute with Scottish Government over its funding and has taken the decision to shut up shop rather than work within a reduced budget, there are clearly many more who believe passionately in what they do and are keen to engage in a national debate about the future.


A contribution from Jenny Mackenzie, Leith Community Councillor

Following uncharitable rumours about their severe illness and imminent demise, a nationwide network of community councillors (Ccllrs)  across Scotland is ignited in debate.

Not just a hot-air talking shop, this conversation is a heated exchange that is fast-forwarding into action.  A website will be up before the end of the month that will bring that debate into the public domain. More than a few Ccllrs promise that within the next few years, community councils most definitely won’t be dead.  But they will be different.

The current model definitely needs review. Some say that a current concept that suits some Ccs, more so those in rural areas and some small villages, doesn’t work for urban areas.  City Ccs often have dense populations and complex and intensely competing needs to deal with.

Elections, usually uncontested, are frequently agreements amongst chums, hardly conducive to fair and representative committees. In others, local politicians shamelessly interfere in what are supposed to be a-political forums. Many well-meaning community councillors do not yet have the skills to resist or cope with poor chairing, interference from those who should know better or wilfully disruptive behaviours.  These practical problems can and will be addressed.  The Scottish Government knows that they exist, and says it is interested in helping to find solutions. We hope that time will prove that right.  

While Ccs have different levels of success in different parts of the country, many of their members are bound together by a common theme.  They want more accountability, interaction with and effectiveness from the authorities and officials who deliver the services to their communities.  They want to achieve this in an a-political way. In law they have statutory rights to comment on licensing and planning issues, but many question just how much effect this is having. They believe in the concept of local democracy and they want to exercise it so that it means something. Many don’t want to have to flirt with a small number of political parties with big ambitions to achieve these goals. 

Some want budgets devolved to Ccs, while others couldn’t think of anything worse than this level of financial responsibility.   Before we get to that level of engagement, we need a better model to work with.  There‘s a rich resource of people from across Scotland with skills, experience and commitment to their communities who need a better model for service than the one they’ve got now.  They are rapidly organising themselves into a credible force, and their plan is to make themselves heard where it mattes so that Ccs can make the difference they deserve. 

To listen to a radio interview on Radio Scotland with the author of this piece click on the MP3 file below: