Here’s a challenge for our new (and not so new) local councillors who tasted success at the local elections a fortnight ago. Wouldn’t you prefer that your council held real power, had a meaningful degree of legal and fiscal autonomy, and was of a size that felt worthy of the term ‘local’? Unfortunately, for now anyway, that’s a distant prospect. Instead, you’’ll be joining Scotland’s uniquely super-sized regional authorities, each largely beholden to the Scottish Government and consequently with a built-in disconnect from the very people who just elected you. A recent paper by Electoral Reform Society highlights that 67% of the population feel powerless over decisions that directly affect their community – a symptom of democratic malaise if ever there was one. But it hasn’t always been like this. That same paper makes the point that historically, our most significant social innovations often came from local government (albeit when ‘local’ was local), and that these were invariably driven by the energy and creativity of their communities. So here’s the challenge for our new councillors. To become truly effective in local government, you’ll need to reconnect with communities in ways that tap into that potential. And here’s how – let local people lead.
In the most recent briefing…
Twenty years ago, an idea to create a new organisation – Development Trusts Association Scotland – was being kicked around the Senscot offices. The UK body for development trusts (DTA) had little presence in Scotland but its one member, Carluke Development Trust, was convinced of the potential for a Scotland-wide body and it was they who first went knocking at the door of Senscot. Eventually, a package of start-up funding was assembled, some staff were recruited and in no time at all, Carluke had some peers. And the numbers just keep growing – a start-up guide for newbies just out.
When Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP, opened the country’s largest community owned hydro scheme at Morvern, she clearly recognised the added value of it being community owned – this venture would underpin further investment into the local economy in a way that private ownership could never get close to. All of which makes it nothing short of bewildering that community ownership (of anything) doesn’t merit a mention in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation. As if more evidence was needed, see this comparative research into the difference between community owned and privately owned wind farms published by Point and Sandwick Development Trust.
Something irks about a landowner who makes great play of their credentials for environmental stewardship then holds out for every last penny when a community buy-out comes along with the intention of enhancing the natural environment and restoring biodiversity. The Duke of Buccleuch has already received £3.8m, much of it from public sources, to sell 5200 acres of his land so that the community could establish the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve. Now in the process of raising another £2.2m to incorporate the remainder of the Moor, the community could lose out over a £450k shortfall. Whose land is it really anyway?
There’s a lot that’s happening in the growing world and not just because it’s that time of year. GetGrowing Scotland is the new online hub for anyone who’s interested in growing food and other plants and generally just taking care of whatever nature there is around you. And away from the real world of planting and growing, important news on the policy front. Scottish Parliament is taking evidence on the impact of 2015 Community Empowerment Act on allotment provision. Glasgow Allotments Forum have drafted a response that any growers might find useful when thinking about their own submission.
Hang around long enough in the policy world and pretty much every idea or theory, whether or not it has been thoroughly debunked, will eventually reappear, fresh as a daisy and ready for another go at convincing the world of its merits. Sometimes success in this respect can depend on timing and sometimes on the messenger (and sometimes a bit of both) but sometimes it’s also because the idea actually has real merit. Social capital has been out of fashion recently but recent analysis of our pandemic response suggests that it could be a useful lens to view it through.
Margaret Mead’s famous quote about the immense power of small actions taken by small groups of people perfectly describes what happened in the Yorkshire town of Todmorden when a small group of friends decided to transform their market town by planting food and vegetables on every scrap of available land. The Incredible Edible Network began that day and has grown to over 150 groups across the UK, with a fast growing Scottish network. Proposal are afoot for ‘right to grow’ legislation which would force local authorities to identify and make available plots of land for ‘community cultivation’
Glenboig village is located 3 miles to the north of Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire. Its quiet rural setting belies a significant industrial heritage which included world renowned fireclay brickworks, coal mining and significant rail links.Find out more