Speak with any civil servant these days, and the chances are they’ll mention the new National Performance Framework (NPF). It may sound dull but actually isn’t. It lays out what needs to happen if Scotland is to become the sort of country we might aspire to. The language is intriguing too. It talks about Scotland being a society where we treat each other with kindness and where children grow up feeling loved. Hardly your bog-standard government-speak. And perhaps that’s the point. This is aimed at everyone – all parts of government, all sectors and all citizens – and it’s intended to drive fundamental change in how the country works, from top to bottom. Last week, I met someone with Parkinson’s disease. Since diagnosis, her quality of life had been in steady decline until she discovered a community led health project. Six months on, she says her life has been utterly transformed – feeling fitter and stronger, life is once again worth living. Yet despite the undeniable benefits for this woman (and for NHS budgets), this health project and many like it, struggle just to stay afloat. We’ll know the NPF is more than just warm words when that begins to change.
In the most recent briefing…
Place is the new policy buzzword. Place-making, place principles, place based this and that. And if there is one community in Scotland that has been to the fore in thinking about place, way before it became a buzzword, it is Neilston in East Renfrewshire. For fifteen years they have been developing their ideas on their place. From the ground-breaking Neilston Charter in 2009 to the Going Places in 2014 and everything in between and since, if there was ever somewhere that a Council should be thinking differently about place it is in Neilston. Well, not this Council.
Despite the distinctly surreal edge to the debate (can we even call it that?) surrounding our exit from the EU, a lot of people are doing a lot of thinking and planning for various scenarios and increasingly that has been towards the worst case scenario of departing in a week’s time without any deal at all. With so many known unknowns, it is difficult to plan with any degree of certainty but Scottish Government has just published a useful guide and toolkit to help our sector think about some of the issues and plan for whatever is to come.
At the recent Third Sector Interface (CVS and Volunteer Centres in old money) conference, I sat next to someone whose job it is to help very early stage, grass roots groups through the bureaucratic minefield of sorting out constitutions, understanding committee roles and responsibilities, charitable law, finance and so on. She described some pretty dire instances of where no meetings had been held and no records kept but where significant sums of money were being received and spent. At the same conference she introduced me to this. A really straightforward code of good governance. Worth a look.
The loss of the local store or post office can spell disaster for a rural community. Nonetheless, the temptations of lower prices or more choice online can lure even the most committed local shopper. But if the shop becomes owned by the whole community, shopping elsewhere becomes much less attractive. And that’s what the folk of South Cowal are hoping for. With just a few days left to hit their £60,000 community share target, this will be the first community share offer in Scotland in which every child in the area is to become a shareholder.
No one doubts that we have a housing crisis – there are not enough houses on the market to rent or buy at an affordable price. And thus far, it has been left to the market (with an occasional helping hand from government) to sort it out. But with little sign of any real progress, perhaps it’s time to look further afield for more radical measures. In Berlin, where prices leapt by 20% in 2017 alone, citizens are organising themselves and preparing to bring 200,000 former council flats under social ownership – effectively the renationalisation of housing.
Elinor Ostrum is probably best well known for being the first and, to date, the only woman to have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics. Her most important work, backed up by a huge amount of empirical research, was aimed at proving that communities were more than capable of taking control of their own affairs – and without the intervention of the state or the private sector. Although she died in 2012, her work lives on and is now being given new expression in terms of how public services can look in the future.
For anyone trying to understand the shifting sands in the relationship between local and national government, the McIntosh Report published in 1999 seems to be required reading. The McIntosh Commission tried to explore the emerging and potential relationships between local government and the new Scottish Parliament and made a number of recommendations, many of which appear to have fallen by the wayside. Prof James Mitchell of Edinburgh University suggests that this was an opportunity lost and a significant factor in the current blame game that colours so much of this crucial relationship.
Back in September 2015, Scottish Government announced the appointment of a panel of ‘experts’ to carry out a review of the planning system and come up with some ‘game-changing’ recommendations. Game changing or not, eight months later the panel submitted its report to the Planning Minister. Their recommendations attracted support from key figures in the planning profession and from across development industry. Most people assumed their job was done. But now, as the most amended Bill in Scottish Parliamentary history enters its final stage, the Panel has re-entered the fray with an interesting intervention.