What financial support does the Scottish Government provide to the community sector? On the face of it, a relatively straightforward question but apparently one without a straightforward answer. A few years back, the then Finance Secretary was surprised by the lack of readily available data on this, and instructed his civil servants to go away and do the sums. Not only interested in the grand total, he wanted to simplify the funding regime for communities by conflating various pots of cash that had proliferated across government departments. Needless to say, the prospect of losing control over their budgets didn’t wash with his Cabinet colleagues (nor their civil servants), and the idea was quietly ditched. In truth, it was always a tall order – not least because of a longstanding lack of coherence across the funding landscape and too little transparency as to why some things are funded and others aren’t. Nonetheless, the funding system can be made to work well – in lockdown, funding flowed at unprecedented speed, and with an absolute minimum of fuss, to where communities needed it most. At the time, Ministers declared that lessons had been learned and that reform would follow. All very encouraging, but when?
In the most recent briefing…
A third of grassroots music venues have closed in the last twenty years. And while there was significant support for the Arts throughout the pandemic, 67% of the Culture Recovery Fund went to landlords rather than the venue. Which is why the recent findings of Music Venue Trust are so significant. In 2004, 3% of music venues were run on a community based, not for profit basis. That figure is now 26%. Retaining income within the cultural economy by developing models of community ownership is the only truly sustainable way to build a community’s cultural wealth.
If you were to produce a word cloud of how community groups would typically describe their experience of the planning system, the largest words at its heart would likely be a combination of ‘frustration’, ‘alienation’, ‘powerlessness’ and other such sentiments. But occasionally, just occasionally, the system seems to take on board local concerns and rather than write them off as NIMBYist, actually defends the local interest. Most recently, the Friends of Loch Hourn enjoyed their own David vs Goliath moment. Coastal communities are becoming increasingly well organised – sharing tactics and strategies across the fast growing Coastal Communities Network.
Last weekend, I saw a tweet telling of a litter pick along my local cycle path organised by Ukrainian refugees as their way of saying thank you for the welcome they’ve received in Edinburgh. I like an occasional litter pick so I went along. Despite the language barriers between us, litter picking is an oddly effective way of connecting positively with people who don’t know one another and this one was no different. Litter- picks are by nature community led which is why Glasgow City Council’s recent initiative to establish community litter pick hubs may just take off.
In an early discussion on community empowerment (before the phrase became so overused as to be meaningless) I remember a council leader, prominent at the time within COSLA, telling the room he’d spent his whole career empowering communities. At which point a community activist respectfully pointed out that he was grasping the wrong end of the stick – that it was he and his fellow citizens who empowered the councillor, that power was delegated upwards and not devolved downwards. Needless to say the point being made was somewhat lost on the councillor. An article by George Monbiot develops the theme.
In recent weeks, Land Reform Minister, Mairi McAllan, has been introducing a series of events around the country to explore how land reform will contribute towards Scotland’s ambition to become a net zero nation. This next Land Reform Bill, due to be introduced in Parliament by the end of 2023, aims both to focus on tackling large scale acquisitions and concentration of landownership as well as exploring how land use and ownership can help tackle climate change. Anyone responding to the consultation may find it useful to check out Andy Wightman’s series of detailed blogs on the matter.
The shortage of affordable housing for local people in rural areas in particular, is largely understood to be caused by incoming wealth, inflating market values by buying up properties as a holiday home investment proposition. To date, we’ve seen much wringing of hands on the part of our politicians with little or no direct action. Until now. Highland Council is offering to buy homes that would otherwise be sold to investors as holiday lets. With the incentives on offer, many sellers are coming forward, happy to know their homes are being kept for locals. Could other Councils will follow suit?
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