Last week I was at a wedding in Vega de Pas, a small village set in the beautiful hills of Cantabria in Northern Spain. The village has a population of less than 800 and yet it has its own elected mayor and a village council that levies a tax on residents and has responsibility for things that matter to the village – maintaining roads and the public realm, refuse collection, local planning decisions and so on. Twelve local people are employed in the service of the village, some of whom seemed to be multi-tasking. Very few decisions that directly impact on the daily life of the village are taken in the regional capital of Santander, and fewer still in Madrid. This is subsidiarity in action. Meanwhile, here in Scotland things are somewhat different. Like many other European cities, Edinburgh has decided to introduce a tourism tax to generate some extra revenue for the city. Correction: Edinburgh has been told it must first seek the permission of Scottish Government before even contemplating such a move. With this ‘command and control’ culture so deeply embedded across our systems of government, the road to Vega de Pas looks to be well beyond our reach.
In the most recent briefing…
One of the weaknesses of the early land reform legislation was an assumption that communities would register their interest in buying land well in advance of the land ever coming onto the market. The community of Dunblane were caught out by this when a much loved area of woodland was sold at short notice to a developer. Their attempts to make a late registration to buy the land were thwarted and for the past thirteen years they have waged a protracted battle to protect the woodland from being developed. All good things come to those who wait.
Despite the outcry from communities, RBS are resolutely sticking to their closure plans for 52 branches across Scotland. With other High Street banks moving in the same direction and the number of free to use cash machines being reduced by up to 40%, it’s clear that the way we think about banking services is going to have to change and new models will have to evolve. Retired accountant Jeff Payne, working with financial product company Contis, is proposing a series of franchised community hubs with banking services included. These banking hubs are being branded as the Community Junction.
With the recent tranche of Scottish Land Fund awards spread across Scotland’s central belt, it was another sign that community landownership has become an increasingly mainstream feature of Scotland’s civic landscape – no longer confined to the north and west of the country. Community landownership is also no longer new – many young people have lived all their lives on community owned land. It is however still a fragile movement – many community landowners struggle to achieve financial stability and cite a lack of affordable working capital as a major barrier. Next month sees a weeklong programme of events showcasing their achievements.
All of sudden we’re all talking about the horrors of single use plastic and the threat it poses to our marine environment. In no small part that’s been due to the efforts of David Attenborough and in particular his documentary series, Blue Planet 2. While talking about the problem is important and necessary if we are to find solutions, nothing’s going change unless people are prepared to walk that talk as well. And increasingly, they are. From the inspirational efforts of one man on the beaches of Mumbai to Scotland’s island communities, local action is spreading.
It is an irony that just as communities are being challenged to take on more responsibilities than ever before, the resources that were historically allocated to the task of supporting these communities have been virtually wiped out by the cuts. In England a programme of recruiting and training 6,500 community organisers began in 2011. Seven years on, it’s about to be expanded – another 3,500 by 2020. While we don’t need to follow the same path, surely some kind of national strategic response to the new challenges confronting our communities is required.
When the idea of social enterprise really began to take off as a realistic alternative business model, inevitably the free marketeers began to hover on the edges of the sector seeking ways to generate private profit from the delivery of social outcomes. All manner of social investment ‘products’ have been developed which appear designed to introduce free market disciplines into a sector that has traditionally eschewed private profit. One such idea was the Social Impact Bond (SIB) -a sort of payment by results model. Recent research indicates that the SIB is what many people have long suspected – a bit of a dud.
Although forward planning is a perfectly normal activity for most organisations, it’s less common to think about how our communities as a whole might develop into the future and in particular what needs to happen for them to become more powerful in the years ahead. Some interesting research just published by Local Trust and carried out by IVAR, which identified five dominant themes around which the report is structured: Poverty, Transience, Fragmentation, Isolation and Democracy.
Our understanding of why gaps exist between policy and practice can sometimes be helped by rigorous academic research. For some years now, the contribution of community anchor organisations not only in relation to public service reform but also in building local democracy, local resilience and delivering social change has been promoted widely as a feature of Scottish Government policy. The evidence on community anchors has been largely anecdotal to date. But now the academic research is catching up with an in depth study by WWS just completed. This 4 page summary provides an overview.