A child sat down next to me at an event recently and told me what she thinks is most important in life. It struck me that this was the first time in a long while (probably since my daughters were that age) that I’d listened so intently to such a young person (11). She and her friend then told me about their human rights, that every child on the planet share these same rights, and that it was my job, as an adult, to make these rights become real. It was a sobering moment. I was one of the non-young invited to the 5th National Sitting of Children’s Parliament – coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Kate Gilmore, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, was unstinting in her praise of Children’s Parliament for its work in bringing children’s rights to the fore, both here and on the international stage. But while Scotland may have a reputation within the UN for promoting children’s rights, it feels like we’ve a way to go before the rights of all children are made real in our communities. I’m not even sure we hear their voices.
In the most recent briefing…
To the casual observer of the housing market, it would be easy to conclude that everyone wants to live as close to the urban centres as possible. The evidence being that the constant supply of new houses being built by the volume house-builders must reflect where the demand for housing exists. But is that an accurate picture of the market? What if houses were built in more sparsely populated areas? Would there be a demand for them? It seems there might be following the experience of the community on Ulva who simply invited notes of interest.
The Scottish Crown Estate Act 2019 is beginning to be implemented and so it may just be teething problems as Crown Estate Scotland starts to orientate itself to its new focus of serving the best interests of Scotland’s communities. CES is now able to set leases and rents at less than market value, or even nil consideration, if the effect would be to support local economic development. A group in the Western Isles, Harris Development have requested that CES grant them ‘Community Organisation Support Exemption’ (COSE) to enable them to operate their marina. CES seem less than keen.
When communities in Glasgow took control of their housing stock in the early 1970’s by setting up housing coops and locally run housing associations, many in the social housing sector – local authorities in particular – must have been secretly hoping they would fall flat on their faces. That they didn’t, and indeed have consistently outshone all their competitors on most performance indicators, must be a thorn in the flesh of all those who continue to argue bigger is better. The most surprising thing is that Scottish Government doesn’t encourage more local control of social housing today.
Councils are under unprecedented pressure both to generate new sources of income and reduce expenditure. Everyone knows that, but whether it justifies actions that are akin to a quasi-feudal laird is another matter. The communities on Mull have just won a reprieve after fighting off the unilateral imposition of parking tariffs by Argyll and Bute Council at every ferry terminal on the island – but only because the Council’s actions were found to be illegal. The new National Islands Plan is supposed to strengthen the hand of communities but locals on Mull have described it as ‘toothless’.
Local councils have always been able to make a distinction between capital and revenue expenditure. In order to finance capital projects, local authorities can borrow from the markets whereas revenue expenditure is determined by how much block grant or local tax revenue is generated. But the funds that are available to meet the capital requirements of the community sector seem to be determined by a different set of rules. Funding for capital projects – community assets – is dwindling fast and a crisis is looming. Andrew Ward from Creetown Initiative explains.
The 2015 Community Empowerment Act gives communities the right to appeal to Scottish Ministers if their request for a Council asset to be transferred is refused. But there’s little point in having a community right to appeal if the procedure itself is flawed. For council assets, the appeal is treated in the same way as a planning appeal – with a planner appointed by Scottish Ministers to adjudicate. But while a planner may be qualified to adjudicate on planning matters, community development is an entirely different field. The Garioch Partnership describe their recent experience of the appeal process as ‘bruising’.
Food is such an intrinsic part of our wellbeing, it’s a mystery as to why it’s not more of a national priority – particularly given the multiple issues of food poverty, obesity and associated health conditions and the wider issues of social cohesion. An important conference organised by Nourish Scotland takes place tomorrow and Friday in Edinburgh which will plan the necessary steps Scotland has to take to become a Good Food Nation. Added to this, Soil Association Scotland is offering some funding to groups who’d like to run Food for Life Get Togethers. Slowly but surely, food is moving up the agenda.
Over the 10 years that Climate Challenge Fund has been running there’s long been a query over the sustained impact of this investment. Scottish Government recently carried out an internal review of CCF and plans to make some changes – perhaps the most significant of which will be the creation of a network of regional hubs to support community climate action. One hopes that the investment for these hubs will go to the many community anchors that have been to the fore of local climate action. Major conference next week to consider how communities can best respond to the climate emergency.