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17th April 2019

Normally, I’d consider myself a ‘functioning’ news addict. But these aren’t normal times. And lately, aside from being hooked up to an intravenous newsdrip from Westminster and Brussels, I’ve been dipping ever deeper into a whole new world of blogging and comment, much of which has been stirred up by the current state of weirdness afflicting our politics.  A recent post on the UnHerd website simply asks, what is central government actually for? A reasonable question given all that we’re witnessing, but the article argues it’s also entirley the wrong question if we want to resolve the conundrum of localism – which is, despite all the rhetoric, why the centre finds it so hard to devolve power away from itself. It suggests that rather than waste our efforts trying to wrest power from the centre, we should start from the assumption that responsibility for everything – and yes, that means absolutely everything – sits with the most local level of community governance.  Thereafter, the onus would be on central (or local) government to argue why it should be entrusted with any particular function. This simple act of reversing the burden of proof would change everything – government literally being empowered by communities. Imagine that.

In the most recent briefing…

    • Twinning at any level works

      Brexit may put the final nail in its coffin but the once popular idea of your town or village being twinned with a relatively obscure European settlement of equivalent size and stature seems to have fallen into neglect. The vigilant folk at Carnegie UK noticed this and spotted an opportunity to revive the concept – but only between UK towns.  At a sub-town level, perhaps some of the community connections established through our own Community Learning Exchange (if funding is renewed) could be formalised into twinning relationships? Carnegie identified some powerful benefits that can accrue from these arrangements.


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    • Stitch in nine

      With news that work is to start shortly in Galashiels on the new permanent home for the Great Tapestry of Scotland, it’s a reminder of the powerful story-telling potential of the simple stitch. The Renfrewshire Tapestry Group have been working for the past couple of years with over 300 local stitchers to tell the story of Paisley from the 16th century to the present day – appropriate given the town’s great industrial heritage of thread production. Second phase of the project will recount the history of nine villages across the Old County of Renfrewshire.


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    • The importance of dignity

      Preserving dignity looks like it is being built into the design Scotland’s new social security system. It’s also the phrase that was at the heart of work undertaken by the Poverty Truth Commission and Nourish Scotland on the community provision of food.  Consideration of how something might impact on a person’s dignity, could really transform the way we think about the delivery of public services. Here’s a great example of a community project in Aberdeen which tackles food poverty but always with a keen eye on preserving the dignity of those they serve. 


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    • A better understanding

      When a community chooses to become involved in a commercial venture, more often than not it’s because no private individual is prepared to take on the risk, invest the required capital or simply provide a much needed service. In other words, it is often market failure of one form or another that spurs the community to act. As a result of being collectively owned and because they have been established only to serve local needs, these businesses face very specific challenges. To gain a better understanding of these challenges, Community Shares Scotland have instigated some research. Survey closes today.


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    • A glimpse of the future

      Over the years, Community Energy Scotland has helped hundreds of communities across Scotland take advantage of opportunities which have emerged as a result of changes to the energy environment. For some years Orkney has been a particular focus of their efforts, ensuring community interests are to the fore in some of the most innovative and technically challenging multi-agency projects. Most recently, last week’s announcement of Phase 1 of a ground-breaking £28.5m project is being touted as a tantalising glimpse of the UK’s low carbon future.


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    • Mapping those assets

      With the latest announcement from the Scottish Land Fund that four more communities have received funds to help them acquire important local assets, it occurred to me to ask Scottish Land Fund how many other communities have taken ownership of land and assets over the years. And given that the Scottish Land Fund isn’t the only route open to communities interested in acquiring assets, it raises a further question as to whether anyone has ever tried to map all community ownership of land and buildings on a national level. Apparently no one has. A research project for someone?


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    • Island planning

      Almost 100,000 people live on Scotland’s 95 inhabited islands. Alongside the many obvious advantages that come with island living, there must be as many challenges.  Last year, Scottish Parliament passed the Island (Scotland) Act which is designed to offer greater powers and protections to island communities. Scottish Government are now required to publish a National Islands Plan. Consultation on the first such Plan has now began.  While some island communities may feel they have said all there is to be said many times before, this is the first opportunity to have all their concerns addressed within one Plan.


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    • New direction for Oxfam

      Rocked by safeguarding scandals and criticised from all quarters for their initial responses, Oxfam appears to have taken stock and concluded it’s time to change tack. Interesting thoughts from the relatively new CEO, Danny Sriskandarajah on a new direction he wants the Oxfam to take. He describes the approach as ‘less super tanker, more dockyard’ in which it becomes less about what Oxfam do on the ground and more about how they use their scale and resource to empower others. An approach that all charities of a certain size could do well to look at


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