Research by Scottish Enterprise into the accuracy of those ‘predictions’ about jobs and other economic benefits that flow from public investment, has shown at least 50% to be significantly overblown – in other words, wishful thinking. But with so much effort, money and legislation being committed in the pursuit of community empowerment, it can only be a matter of time before the search begins for some kind of empowerment metric. In some cases, for instance where communities have chosen to become community landowners, some outcomes actually lend themselves to measurement – population growth, business start-up rates and so on. But how to measure, let alone assign monetary value to, a community’s increased sense of agency or civic pride is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, some robust investigation into what community empowerment actually looks and feels like on the ground is probably well overdue. Senscot founder, Laurence Demarco, has long held that a measure of an empowered community is its capacity to show dissent. And speaking at Common Weal’s recent housing conference, Andy Wightman, MSP opined that we had all become much too deferential and ‘polite’ around the Scottish Parliament. Maybe there’s something in what they say. Should we be speaking more truth to power?
In the most recent briefing…
Cranhill Development Trust sits in a part of Glasgow which the statistics would categorise as being the most deprived (top 1% SIMD) part of the country. Last week, they held their annual meeting and reported back on their achievements over the past year. Two things struck me. Firstly, the numbers of people who spontaneously expressed their appreciation for the work of the Trust. And secondly, the amount of funders needed to keep this show on the road – 23. That’s 23 different application forms and reporting requirements. We need to think differently about how this work is funded.
10 years ago, SCVO’s Stephen Maxwell argued that if we were really serious about empowering communities, we should endow our most disadvantaged communities with sufficient resources (£1m or more) which would be under local ownership and control, and would enable them to tackle whatever issues they faced in whatever way they chose. The long-forgotten-about-money that sits in dormant bank accounts is being scooped up again. £200m could be coming to Scotland. Rather than fritter it away in short term revenue grants, why not endow communities like Cranhill with the wherewithal to shape their own future – for ever?
A car crash that occurred earlier this year in Shetland may herald a turning point in how professionals and communities work together to achieve better outcomes. The badly injured driver needed the attention of both paramedics from the ambulance while getting to hospital and so a firefighter took it upon himself to drive the ambulance. In the old days, demarcation lines crossed in this way could lead to strike action. But the lessons from that incident have encouraged the Fire Service to consider how it could draw upon expertise within communities to improve their service.
Although we appear to have woken up to the rip-off economics underpinning the PFI deals that finance our schools and hospitals, Scottish Government’s confidence in the private sector to deliver key public services seems undimmed – the most recent furore having erupted over the awarding of contracts for the new Fair Start Scotland initiative. If profit margins must be extracted from public service contracts, why not design the contracts so that the profits can at least stay local? It only takes a small shift in thinking to create a whole new ecology of community scale providers.
Just a matter of weeks since Scotland was voted the world’s most beautiful country, a report is published by Keep Scotland Beautiful which suggests that the judges must have been highly selective about which parts of the country they visited. KSB’s report highlights that environmental standards – measured by fly-tipping, litter, graffiti and weeds – have reached a ten year low and that the rate of decline is most severe in the country’s most disadvantaged communities. A much more coordinated approach is called for – both at national and on a community level – to resolve this blight on our communities.
Fish farming, as anyone familiar with Scotland’s coastline will know, is a massive business. It also has a massive problem. Last year, almost a quarter of its entire output – 10 million salmon – had to be thrown away as a result of disease, sea lice and other problems. Campaign groups are warning that the industry is facing an environment catastrophe and poses a serious risk to our coastal waters. The recently formed Coastal Communities’ Network is working with others in the world of marine conservation to safeguard the quality of our marine environment.
When the Community Empowerment Act was working its way through Scottish Parliament, much of the early attention focused on the provisions relating to asset transfer and extending the community right to buy. But one section that some believed might contain more potential than all the rest was the one concerned with Participation Requests. Having the right to start a dialogue with a public service authority to permit the (community) body to participate in an outcome improvement process doesn’t sound very encouraging but the recently published guidance is well worth a flick through.
In this year’s T.B. Macaulay lecture, Professor Tim Jackson presented what appears to be a wholly credible alternative to the dominant economic model of unsustainable continuous growth and the inevitable degradation of the natural environment. His book, Prosperity Without Growthhas been widely acclaimed and none more so than by the Guardian’s George Monbiot. Monbiot’s writing fluctuates between deep pessimism about the future prospects for humanity and soaring optimism. Here he seems to be excited about the prospect of Labour taking a new path towards (almost) saving the world.