For as long as I can remember local government bashing has been something of a national pastime. And I’ll confess, over the years, I’ve bashed with the best of them. The system of local government we have today is the end-product of successive reorganisations played out over many years, all of which have been guided by the same flawed logic – that local democracy is best served with ever fewer and bigger councils. And as our councils have become more remote from their communities, so they have become easier targets for that aforementioned bashing – and it’s about to get a lot worse. Scottish Government’s recently trailed ‘autumn relaunch’ signals an unprecedented assault on councils. Plans are afoot to strip them of their powers, passing control over many decisions, along with the resources, down to communities. We’ve long argued that there is a ‘missing tier’ of democracy in Scotland, one which should sit much closer to communities. But that is a call for a new, additional tier of democracy – not the complete dismemberment of the only one we’ve got left. Council bashing may be an unhealthy preoccupation, but they’re still our councils and if they weren’t there, who would we bash?
In the most recent briefing…
In the last edition, the brief mention of litter picking seemed to strike a chord with many people who responded with related snippets. While there’s undoubtedly a national problem with litter, it is also an issue that people feel passionately about and are prepared to take action on. From individuals incorporating litter picking into their daily walking routines to very significant scale community action. The largest of which seems to happen on Shetland. One in five of the population get involved in their annual clean up event. Can anyone top that?
At this year’s Community Land Scotland conference, one of the key themes to be explored was the importance of repopulation as a factor in how we think about developing and managing Scotland’s landscape. If people are unable to forge a life for themselves, with proper access to land for housing and work, many remote rural communities simply cease to be sustainable, with the effect of simply adding to Scotland’s vast empty wildernesses. This is why projects like the one recently completed on Mull are so important. Small in scale but with massive local impact.
Is democracy working for Scotland’s communities? That’s the motion to be chewed over at the DTAS Debate which will kick start their 2017 Annual Conference – It’s All About People. Always a sell-out, so get your tickets early – 3rd/4th September. This heralds the start of conference season for Scotland’s community sector. The Scottish Islands’ Federation meet in Orkney the following week, Scottish Rural Action the week after, with Community Woodlands Association, Community Resources Network Scotland and Community Transport Association all hard on their heels.
Access to superfast broadband is something that – if you live in a city – most folk take for granted. But you don’t have to stray too far from the city limits before those speeds start to drop and there are still too many parts of rural Scotland where little has changed since the time Tim Berners-Lee wondered what would happen if computers were joined together. Despite the promise of nationwide digital roll out, many communities have been left to come up with their own solutions – albeit often with remarkable success.
Last summer, right across the west coast and on the islands in particular, there was a palpable sense of relief at Scottish Government’s decision to award CalMac the contract to deliver west coast ferry services. They were up against the outsourcing giant SERCO and many feared the worst. Part of CalMac’s successful pitch centred on the relationship they have built up with the communities served by their ferries. In particular, CalMac committed themselves to establishing a Community Board that will report directly to the main CalMac Board. An interesting innovation.
Scottish Parliament is widely praised for being one of the most open and inclusive parliaments anywhere in the world. The e-petition system for instance, now a feature of many parliaments, was trail-blazed in Scotland. It seems to be a feature of our Parliament’s culture that MSPs are particularly keen to be as accessible as possible wary perhaps of being accused of living in a ‘Holyrood bubble’. During the summer recess, an MSP Connector Programme is being organised by Scotland’s Towns Partnership. This is your chance to invite MSPs to come and see what you do.
During the middle of the Westminster expenses scandal, David Cameron made a comment along the lines of, ‘if they think this is bad wait until the lobbying scandal breaks’. Occasionally we get snippets but I sense this is one that’s still lurking in the shadows. Ironically, recent attention seems to have shifted to the ‘lobbying’ activities of the third sector and the potential constraints that the new legislation might impose. It’s all a bit confusing about who can speak freely to whom without transgressing the rules. Jennie Bloomfield at SCVO tries shed some light
Scottish Government, after reviewing the submitted evidence for the Planning Bill, has published a ‘position statement’ which is a good indication of what the Bill will contain. Despite significant community support for the proposal, there is still no shift towards any kind of community right to appeal – with the civil servants remaining steadfastly convinced of the merits of early engagement in the system. Local Place Plans, however, feature prominently in their thinking. An innovation that communities may find useful in this respect – a cleverly designed Place Standard app has just been launched.