It’s been five years since Scottish Parliament passed the Community Empowerment Act – plenty of time to bed itself in and be properly road tested. In recent weeks, various folk – including myself – have given evidence to Holyrood’s Communities Committee and, each to their own, we’ve all tried to answer the same question – has the Act made a difference? I’d resolved in advance to stay positive but, as is my wont, ended up straying into more negative territory. Starting with my usual trope about community empowerment being a zero-sum game and that, because the Act doesn’t actually compel anyone to hand power away, guess what? – they haven’t. Unable to stop digging, I ventured on to suggest that, despite all the Act’s good intentions plus a slew of other policy interventions loosely filed under community empowerment, perhaps we’d reached the end of this particular road. And that rather than forever trying to ‘fix’ some perceived deficit within communities, the focus of attention should be on changing the ‘system’ that communities have become so frustrated with and complain they have so little influence over. The First Minister’s recent announcement to explore a new tier of local democracy could the game-changer.
In the most recent briefing…
It seems a bit of an omission, given how much is being expected of communities at the moment, but there is no real consensus around how to measure the strength of a community. No doubt views are formed anecdotally and shared informally but the lack of transparency and a common understanding of how such views are arrived at helps no one. A useful contribution – although not without flaws – comes from think tank Onward which identifies 5 key threads that combine to form our social fabric and can be used to measure changes in community strength over time.
The past six months have been like no other and a plea from the archivists at Glasgow Caledonian University is that whatever your community has done in response to Covid, keep some record of it and share your story with them at some point down the line. #KeepItDon’tDeleteIt is the trending hashtag. While the folk at SURF may not be qualified archivists, they know a fair bit about regeneration and have carried out a remarkable job of recording the activities of more than 150 communities during the pandemic. SURF’s analysis highlights 10 key learning points.
Although no one appears to be counting, it’s reasonable to assume that record numbers of people have found their way into some kind of volunteering role during the past six months. That being the case it also seems likely that a good number of these people might be looking to find ways of building on their new found skills and experiences. And therein lies a problem. Who offers that support? In past years, the Cornwall based Eden Project has run training camps for activists. This year it’s gone online. Not as much fun perhaps but definitely more accessible.
When a whole generation has grown up in the knowledge that the land they live on is owned by their community, it’s probably fair to conclude that what was once a fanciful idea, scoffed at by many, has now become a firm fixture within Scotland’s (still skewed) pattern of land ownership. Last week, the national body for Scotland’s community landowners celebrated its 10th anniversary. This is a movement that is growing fast and across all parts of the country. A nice little film here to remind us of how it got to this point. Much more to come.
Slightly surprising that the vote by Shetland Isles Council to explore separation from Scottish and UK control hasn’t received more coverage in the media. Scottish Government’s response was equally low key which is strange considering the grounds for the Shetland’s dissatisfaction runs so closely in parallel with the same grounds for dissatisfaction at current levels of fiscal and functional empowerment running through every tier of governance – from UK to Scottish Government, from Scottish Government to local councils and from councils to communities. Time to start walking the endless talk of subsidiarity.
There are certain professions, so deeply embedded into the DNA of our public services, that seem oblivious to the changes in the world around them and as a result carry on as they always have done irrespective of the outcomes. Public procurement is an example. Guiding principles such as centralisation, economies of scale, outsourcing and best value trump all other considerations – even shifts in government policy. The current stushie involving the decision to centralise air traffic control for Scotland’s island communities is a good example. Ruinously expensive and none of the island communities want it. .
It feels like we’ve hit a major crossroads with the pandemic with all the decisions becoming a matter of choosing between least worst scenarios. Despite this, and in part because the past six months have shone new light on many of the social injustices that large swathes of the population have always lived with, many believe it can also be the catalyst to build back a better system than before. The Poverty Alliance conference next month will explore how to do this. The alternatives, such as those being forecast by the Trussell Trust just don’t bear thinking about.
To the casual observer the housing market might seem relatively simple to understand. Demand for houses outstrips the supply of land for building, hence the inflated value of land and house prices which are beyond the reach of most. But for communities that take more than a passing interest in the quality and quantity of houses getting built and the appropriateness of location, the process quickly becomes unfathomable and the relationship between planning authority, land owner and housebuilder increasingly opaque. Planning Democracy offers a route map through the latest attempt by Scottish Government to resolve the planning guddle.
The West Harris Trust is a community charity that was established to create and improve the housing and employment opportunities, and promote renewable energy and sustainable development in the west of the island. The trust has proven that a long history of declining population and limited opportunities can be turned around by local people being able to determine the priorities of their communities. The West Harris Trust acquired three crofting estates comprising of 16,700 acres from the Scottish Government in January 2010. The Trust aimed to increase the population by 30% over a 10-year period through the creation of 10…Find out more