When the idea was first mooted that public bodies should consider transferring some of their prized assets into community ownership, I undertook some entirely unscientific market research by asking some local authority asset managers what they thought. Armed only with the recently published report of the Quirk Review, (which surprised everyone with its enthusiastic tone) I was met, not with reasoned arguments about it being too complicated or risky to contemplate (these would come later), but instead with a genuine sense of bewilderment as to what I was talking about. The whole idea seemed to offend some deeply held set of public service values in a way that I remember being equally bewildered by. Although my sample size was small, the clear inference was that the core interests of a local authority are distinctly different, and at some distance, from the communities they served. And despite today’s much more enlightened policy mood, many communities continue to face inexplicable levels of intransigence as they navigate their way around the landscape of Scotland’s public sector. I sometimes reflect back on those interviews with that group of local authority managers and find myself wondering, if we’re really honest, whether very much has changed.
In the most recent briefing…
In 1874, the crofters on the island of Great Bernera became the first community to successfully fight back against their landowner’s efforts to clear them from the land. What became known as the Bernera Riot sowed the seeds of the modern day crofting and land reform movements. 150 years later the island’s crofters face a similar struggle with the actions (or inaction) of their absentee landlord. Frustrated by the aristocrat landowner’s indifferent attitude, the community have concluded their only option is to mount a hostile buyout. A difficult road to travel as nearby Pairc Trust will testify.
That intransigence referred to in today’s intro is everywhere. While Healthy Options, based in Oban, is literally turning lives around and relieving untold pressure on NHS budgets and staff, its contribution remains inexplicably and firmly under the radar. At a national level, the organisation that supports the country’s largest men’s health network – Scottish Men’s Sheds Association – may close its doors next month for want of an amount that should be easily affordable. As if it were needed, a new report just published by England’s Locality, on the impact of community anchors on local health and wellbeing provides more evidence.
It’s fair to say that the Scottish Government won praise from our arts and culture sector for the support it provided during the pandemic. It does however make you wonder why it bothered if the cuts proposed in the Scottish Government’s budget are voted through this week. Investment in arts often seems regarded as low hanging fruit when times get tough despite all the evidence that to cut funding in these particular circumstances is always a false economy. And the evidence for that is even more compelling when seen through the lens of place – such as Fittie in Aberdeen.
With the launch of the pre-legislation consultation for community wealth building (CWB), the detail of what this will look like on the ground should become clearer. They might not be describing it as CWB, but I’d be surprised if the message that SCOTO ,Scotland’s newest community led network is promoting isn’t very close to what will eventually emerge. The City of Chicago has been at this for a little longer than Scotland and if the package of support the City’s mayor has just announced is anything to go by, our sector has a lot to look forward to.
It’s frustrating that despite the growth of the renewable energy sector and the vast wealth that it generates, there’s still no national plan to capture a proportion of that wealth for the common good. Some communities, through sheer hard work and perseverance, have managed to secure a slice of the action. Others have been gifted crumbs from the developers’ table of ££ per MW to compensate for the inconvenience. But now shared ownership seems to be on offer from many developers. It’s not a national plan but so far it’s the best we’ve got. Local Energy Scotland are offering support to any community that’s tempted..
For many years now we’ve seen the emergence of a plethora of frameworks for measuring the relative health of society – from national and even global perspectives all the way down to community scale. Almost all of which seem to be a response to what is now widely recognised as the inherent weakness of GDP as the primary or even sole unit of measurement. Interesting work by the Centre for Thriving Places which suggests that most of these frameworks are all just variations of the same thing. The much bigger challenge is how to move from the theoretical to practical.
Birse covers over 125sq. km on Deeside in the north-east of Scotland. The parish (district) has four main parts: the three scattered rural communities of Finzean, Ballogie and Birse and the largely uninhabited Forest of Birse, which covers over a quarter of the parish’s total area. The parish has around 330 households, with half of the population living in Finzean and half in Ballogie and Birse.Find out more