The late, great Aretha Franklin once said, ‘sometimes what you’re looking for is already there’. It’s a sentiment our new Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Aileen Campbell MSP, might concur with after being out and about last week in Dumfries and Galloway, getting to grips with her new brief and in particular, seeking evidence that the ideas behind the Local Governance Review chime with the aspirations of local people. She visited two communities, each with different challenges but very similar in the approach they were taking. In Dumfries she met the team aiming to restore civic pride and vibrancy to their town centre by combining the creative arts with some hard-edged regeneration – starting with a community buy-out of their High Street. In Kirkcudbright, a steady stream of poorly performing public assets – a former school, a caravan park and a swimming pool – are being absorbed into community control and transformed into thriving enterprises. Ms Campbell was left in no doubt by the people she met of their desire to take more control over local affairs – the real challenge for this Review will be to convince others of the need to let go. Sometimes what you’re looking for can seem like a distant prospect.
In the most recent briefing…
When the Chinese recently announced that they’d had enough of our exported ‘recycled’ plastic and paper, the implications were loud and clear. We needed a radically different way of thinking about our waste. And despite all the rhetoric, the idea of moving towards a circular economy remains very much on the margins of mainstream economic thinking. The much needed changes in our attitudes and behaviours will only ever be sustained if they’re seeded in communities and developed from the bottom up. And that’s why the work that’s going on in places like Dunbar is so significant.
When the Scottish Men’s Shed Association was formed in 2015, no one could have predicted the speed with which the idea would take off. There are now 78 fully operational sheds around the country with another 47 in the process of being set up. Demand on SMSA’s small development team has grown exponentially – the concept ticks so many boxes it’s easy to see why. That said, it’s not all been plain sailing – some have questioned whether Men’s Sheds should only be for men. Jason Shroeder of SMSA is unequivocal in his response.
RBS Chief Executive, Ross McEwan was being interviewed recently on the radio, setting out the case for bank closures. Apparently, it’s because most of the country now does most of its banking online. And on that basis, he feels entirely justified in implementing his plan. But it turns out we all have very different banking needs for all sorts of different reasons depending on where we live. Some intriguing research just out from HIE with a number of important finds – not least the fact that that old-fashioned commodity – cash – continues to play a critical role in the life of rural communities.
Some have described it as a last throw of the dice for David Cameron’s ill-fated Big Society while others suggest it plays into the ‘take back control’ slogan of the Leave Campaign. Whatever the motivation, communities in England are to be given new rights to either veto or approve the decisions of their local councils. Ministers describe it as part of an initiative to reconnect voters with conventional politics and it will be trialled in 6 local authority areas. Ministers are keen to trial different approaches including online polling and citizen juries.
Fifty years ago, when local authorities were in the business of building serious amounts of social housing, they needed to assemble large tracts of land at a price they could afford. In those days, Compulsory Purchase Orders (CPO) were routinely used and land was purchased at the existing value – not the inflated values driven by speculation. For some reason, that device has largely gone out of fashion. But the problem of derelict brown field sites and vacant homes in town centres persists. The Scottish Land Commission has produced a set of proposals for a nuanced version of the CPO – the Compulsory Sale Order.
Our local councils get a lot of stick. While some of the criticism might be justified, much of it isn’t. Indeed they rarely if ever attract praise for any of the complex range of services that they deliver with great efficiency. So while we may not love our councils, we might just pause to consider how we would cope if they weren’t there or if they were substantially diminished in some way. Andy Wightman MSP has been concerned for some time at erosion of local democracy and is proposing a Private Members Bill in the Scottish Parliament to give more statutory protection to our councils.
When is public space not public space? The answer might be when our free access to that space is restricted in some way. However, we seem to accept that many public places, national monuments and so on, should be able to charge for entry on the basis that the costs of maintaining these public assets need to be met from somewhere. But where to draw the line? Is this the slippery slope towards the privatisation of our public spaces? Recent events in Glasgow and Edinburgh serve to highlight the thin line between public and private space.
Although the notion of a basic income paid to every citizen as of right continues to divide opinion, the balance seems to be shifting in its favour as more and more mainstream politicians show their interest. Where support seems to falter is when the debate gets into the question of affordability and the implications that this has for the taxpayer. This a serious misconception argues the academic Elizaveta Fouksman in The Conversation – we simply need to understand the concept better to understand just how affordable it actually is.