‘Proceed until apprehended’ was the slightly ballsy advice handed out by the then Finance Secretary, John Swinney, when asked at a conference how to counter the public sector’s enduring silo mentality and middle management ‘inertia’. While the averted eyes and stony silence from the mainly public sector audience confirmed that Mr Swinney was whistling in the wind, it made me wonder why politicians bother at all when their authority can be so easily undermined or just simply ignored. Perhaps it’s only at the very margins or in moments of national crisis that any real change occurs. Last week I was contacted by the Covid 19 Inquiry team concerning the role that communities had played, particularly at the start of lockdown. What I most recall was how all the usual forces of resistance – embedded deep within those silos – simply melted away. Communities were trusted to decide for themselves what would work – no questions asked, local nous to the fore – with Ministers providing the resources to match. And so communities proceeded, no one was apprehended and, by common consent, it all went well. But have any lessons been learnt or have those old habits returned? Feels like the latter. And more’s the pity.
In the most recent briefing…
‘Local by default’ is the idea that there should be a presumption in favour of seeking local solutions to society’s challenges and it’s a principle that the Scottish Government seems to be partly embracing with policies such as community wealth building. However, one part of the Scottish Government that has consistently turned a deaf ear to the ‘local by default’ messaging is the Housing Regulator. Years of criticising community based housing associations has resulted in a succession of mergers and takeovers by national housing bodies. Reidvale Housing Association the most recent to fall victim. Why is no one regulating the Regulator?
One consequence of our politics becoming so toxic and unforgiving, is that it excludes the possibility of a more reasoned consideration of the facts. And beyond the political arena, this has to some extent influenced the way in which our sector presents itself to funders and beyond, which tends to be in unfailingly positive terms and with little space for nuance or self criticism. Refreshingly frank appraisal in an evaluation highlighting the downside of putting substantial pots of money directly into community hands. There are many advantages (as you might imagine) but equally important to consider the downside too.
They come in all shapes and sizes, each with a different history but they all share similar challenges in keeping them wind and watertight and myriad other concerns – village and community halls. A useful handbook was published towards the end of last year by DTAS, COSS, SCVO with Scottish Government funding which covers everything from funding, governance, how to get to net zero and all the other facets of successfully running a hall. The Community Learning Exchange is also available for anyone interested in making visits to other halls if they’d like to learn from other’s experiences.
The real tragedy of the community response during lockdown being effectively buried without trace (see above) as the public sector returned to business as usual, is the missed opportunity to learn any lessons. What it offered was an insight into the social infrastructure operating in communities that enables people to live their lives without continual state intervention. Being able to recognise those foundational assets in a community that combine to create the crucial social capital is the precursor to being able to deliver genuinely preventative public services. An argument usefully laid out in a paper from DEMOS.
There are few areas of government policy that provoke as much passion and debate as land reform but because it is such a complex subject many simply use land reform as a general proxy to signal their broader political affiliations. That said, because land reform has a direct impact on so many of the great issues that currently face the country, it’s always worth trying to get to grips with it. The best exposition of this that I’ve read for a while comes from Laurie Macfarlane. If you only read the first four pages, it’s really worth it.
Back in the 70’s Scotland’s local authorities nearly got it right in their response to the housing crisis in our cities. Slums needed to be cleared, and people needed houses with sanitation which were warm, and water tight. And so slums were cleared, land was compulsorily purchased at existing use values and large social housing estates were planned. So far so good but then, somewhere in the process of delivery, much of it went badly wrong. It would be interesting to compare the critical decision making that led to Scotland’s mistakes but, in Vienna’s case, a triumph for social housing.
Established in March 2008, MACC was formed by a group of people who shared the same passion and determination to see the airbase facilities used for the benefit of the Kintyre community. Coming from all walks of life, the group included the site’s former Works Service Manager, local business people and other members of the community. Embarking on one of the largest and most complicated community buyouts ever seen in Scotland, board members worked tirelessly to gain the support they needed. Four years down the line, MACC finally purchased the estate on May 11, 2012 from the Ministry of Defence…Find out more