This may sound strange given that it’s never out of the news, but I feel like I’ve just had my first real brush with Brexit. After meeting with ALDA, an organisation that operates across Europe building links between civil society and local government, the sheer scale of what we are about to turn our backs on really struck home. ALDA is just one of myriad networks and trans-national relationships that have evolved over the past forty years and through which, so much knowledge and experience has been willingly exchanged and international bonds of friendship formed. At a very human level, we know that when we feel more connected to the world around us, we feel better about ourselves and it is this truism that informs so much of what we do and why we do it. Indeed, it is the central premise of Scottish Government’s plans for tackling social isolation within our communities and, in part, it explains why we have evolved our own eco-system of networks that connect and support the many activities that thrive within our communities. And it is why the idea that we should ever want to disassociate ourselves from organisations like ALDA, feels so utterly counterintuitive.
In the most recent briefing…
Slowly but surely, and very slowly in some parts, the NHS is starting to notice the untapped resource that sits right on its doorstep – the community. Faced with ever-growing pressure on its budgets, the perennial challenge is to find the time and space to step away from the immediate challenges and to seek the preventative, more holistic approach to improving health outcomes. Social prescribing is becoming much more mainstream but it will take imagination and help from our sector to make this work. Forest bathing, for instance, could become a regular offering from our community woodlands.
The history of community led regeneration is littered with tales of what often reads as a kind of heroic struggle by a small group of local people who manage, against all the odds and entirely through their own efforts, to turn around the fortunes of their community. Areas where this happens have invariably fallen off the radar of everyone but those with little option but to live there. These stories are inspiring but does it always have to be such hard graft? As we consider new models of local governance, perhaps this is a debate that needs to be aired much more widely.
One of the few success stories coming out of the world of banking is the rising popularity of ethical banks – banks that only invest in ethical causes and even offer the customer a choice over which type of ethical business their money is invested in. Having a much closer relationship with where your money is being invested seems to have real appeal and this is the central premise underpinning a simple but radical investment proposition – the community bond. For the first time local people can literally invest in the economic future of their community.
In the wake of the crisis that has engulfed Oxfam and to some extent, the many other global NGOs delivering aid around the world, the impression is that part of the problem is to do with their scale. That while the vast majority of staff are doing important and life-saving work, the organisations themselves have become corporate juggernauts, disconnected from the day to day reality of their work on the ground. Bigger is better is the dominant culture in so many walks of life and none more so than in public procurement. There is of course, an alternative perspective.
A radio programme investigating the vulnerability of local economies had one contributor asking, almost wistfully, why can’t banks just return to first principles and serve the local economy. This was immediately derided with a jargon ridden riposte about globalised markets and horses having long since bolted. Leaving the listener (me) to ask why? Why do we permit common sense to be dismissed so readily in favour of things that very few actually support? Julia Unwin, formerly of JRF, is about to ask why the language of public policy is so devoid of the things that really matter to people.
The acronym NIMBY is only ever used in a pejorative sense. If you are a NIMBY you are seen to be objecting to a development that you don’t want to see in your back yard. It’s a term of abuse in the planning system used to undermine the validity of a local objection. On the other hand, it could be construed that a person simply cares enough about their community to express a view about what happens in it. In the spirit of equity, Planning Democracy have framed a new acronym to describe the sort of developer that refuses to take no for an answer.
Anyone working within a large organisation, particularly in the public sector, will recognise that the dominant culture can determine many aspects of job performance. The ethos and culture of the organisation can completely overwhelm an individual and even demand compliance with behaviour that feels alien to them. So organisational culture is a powerful force and as such, likely to resist any attempt to change it. And yet in many cases, particularly for local government, culture change is an essential element of becoming fit for purpose. Interesting work on this just published by New Local Government Network.
The current debate about Scotland’s planning system and the opportunity to reform it that currently lies before the Scottish Parliament, is often presented as a set of polarised interests with the developer on one side and the community on the other. So, it’s important amongst all this divisiveness to try to achieve some perspective and remind ourselves how and why 70 years of planning has benefited the country. Professor Cliff Hague, former President of the planners’ trade body, RTPI, offers his thoughts on planning’s historic value. He remains nonetheless, highly sceptical about the Bill.