October 3, 2018
Running on pennies
What price grass root democracy? Not much if you live in Dundee apparently where 1p per head of population goes to support the running of community councils. And quite a bit more if you live in the Shetland Islands – £6.81 per head of population. Community councils aren’t the only form of grass root democracy but they are the only ones with statutory responsibilities. Now further responsibilities for CCs are being mooted in the Planning Bill. How much more can CCs take with such a variable picture of support? The Ferret’s investigation team uncovers the full picture.
A survey of the funding of every community council in Scotland has sparked claims that the bodies are being systematically undermined by a lack of support from local authorities.
In Dundee, the local authority that spends the least on local democracy, the survey reveals that just one penny per person per year is spent on helping community councils. Elsewhere, the vast majority of councils spend less than 20p per person per year, with rural local authorities tending to invest more.
Only the island councils of Orkney and Shetland support their local community councils with more than £1 per person per year.
The figures were compiled by Portobello community councillor Lee Kindness, from multiple freedom of information requests. He, like virtually all community councillors in Scotland, is a volunteer.
He told The Ferret that Portobello Community Council is funded by a grant of £900 per year from the City of Edinburgh Council, but that this does not cover the regular outgoings of the community council.
Costs included hall rental, consultation software, insurance and registration fees with bodies such as the UK Information Commissioner’s Office, which all community councils must have, he said. “There is a structural deficit of £140 per year, and only a generous donation from a local business has kept the community council solvent.”
He pointed out the council was spending less than a penny per month to hear views from local people, and that this level of funding made it difficult for the community council to fulfil its statutory role. This is to “ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authority for its area… the views of the community which it represents.”
He had uncovered huge disparities in local democracy spending across Scotland, he argued. “A community council in Dundee should be equally empowered to carry out its statutory duty as one one in the Shetland Isles.”
Council spending per person on community councils
Local Authority Per Capita Spend
Shetland Islands £6.81
Orkney Islands £3.92
Na h-Eileanan Siar £0.50
Scottish Borders £0.43
Argyll and Bute £0.36
Dumfries and Galloway £0.33
West Dunbartonshire £0.27
East Dunbartonshire £0.24
East Ayrshire £0.14
East Lothian £0.13
Aberdeen City £0.11
South Ayrshire £0.11
West Lothian £0.09
Perth and Kinross £0.08
City of Edinburgh £0.07
Glasgow City £0.06
North Ayrshire £0.06
North Lanarkshire £0.06
South Lanarkshire £0.05
East Renfrewshire £0.04
Dundee City £0.01
There is currently no national body that represents community councils in Scotland. But the research undertaken by Kindness has prompted further calls for reform from other campaign groups.
Clare Symonds, Chair of Planning Democracy said that she found that community councillors felt a huge pressure to represent their communities, but often felt they were simply not resourced to undertake the work that was needed to adequately represent local views when major planning applications were proposed.
“In the case of complex planning applications, it may be impractical for community councils to perform a valid consultation, collate the feedback and lodge a meaningful representation within the timescales allowed,” she said.
A new planning bill currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament includes proposals that community councils could play a role in developing “local place plans” to guide development in their area.
But Planning Democracy has pointed out to MSPs that there are no proposals to provide guaranteed additional resources to community councils to carry out this work in the planned new system.
In England, where local authorities are already encouraged to work with local communities to develop similar “neighbourhood plans,” councils are given £20,000 to fund the development work. In some cases, this work has cost more than £100,000 per plan, experts working with Planning Democracy have said.