There’s something about the way civil servants operate that I’ll never fully understand – odd really, given how many I’ve known and worked with over the years. Somehow, despite their individual differences, there’s a consistency and a discipline in how they go about their work – especially when safeguarding that ‘space’ that surrounds whichever Minister they happen to be serving. Nothing and no one gets past them. But in the weeks before an election, when purdah begins, it must feel a little like when the cat’s away. At the very least, they’re sure to be perusing all those manifestos and speculating amongst themselves what’s coming their way after next Thursday. The civil service code demands impartiality, so they’ll probably feel ‘obliged’ to give each manifesto equal weight. But the rest of us can just go straight to the ones that the pollsters suggest have any chance of seeing the light of day. For my sins, I skimmed the full box set for any eye-catching ideas. Nothing particularly radical (in some cases, nothing whatsoever) but some intriguing commitments nonetheless. New legislation on local democracy, community wealth building and land reform – even the prospect of a national programme of community organisers. Take your pick.
In the most recent briefing…
In the run up to Monday’s ‘big release’ from lockdown, you could be forgiven for thinking the biggest party ever was about to kick off, rather than a few socially distanced drinks imbibed in draughty gazebos. It was though, an unmistakable first step for many towards what used to pass for a social life. But according to new research for many others it’s also a cause of some anxiety. One in four worry that they’ve forgotten the art of conversation. Comedian and mental health campaigner, Jo Brand, recommends the Big Lunch as a perfect first step.
For over a year now, Zoom or Teams has become the primary portal through which we have been living our personal, professional and community lives. Notwithstanding its obvious downside, the shift online has undoubtedly widened access and levels of participation across many fields of activity. It will be interesting to monitor how much of what we do remains online. There are new skills and techniques to develop which will make the online experience smoother – no doubt someone is already developing the training. Our own Community Learning Exchange is returning, but in a blended form. Times they are a changin’.
A government Minister, responding at an online hustings to a question about the inequity of the planning system, explained that the reason the third party right of appeal was excluded from the new Planning Act was because the volume house builders and housing associations were against it. Which makes you wonder who’s in charge. At a recent event organised by Planning Democracy on the appeals procedure, with virtually no publicity, 210 people signed up. This is an area of public policy that touches a raw nerve with communities. This blog from PD’s Clare Symonds captures some of that angst.
Before the pandemic struck, there was already a deep crisis in the pub industry. Now, as restrictions begin to ease and some – those with beer gardens – choose to reopen, everyone is holding their breath to see whether their local has been able to weather the storm and has the capacity to reopen. Many, it is feared, will not. And many are speculating that a trend in the community ownership of pubs – already growing before lockdown – will accelerate. In these straightened times, spreading the financial risks of running a pub and retaining all profits locally, feels like a more sustainable model.
For some years now, Scotland has surfed the wave of international acclaim for setting the most ambitious targets to tackle the climate emergency. While no longer the most ambitious, Scotland would still seek to claim a podium place. But now some chickens may be coming home to roost as serious scrutiny begins to be applied to the question of how these targets are going to be achieved. Strategies being pursued by Scottish Government are being called out as unrealistic ‘carbon unicorns’ as they rely on untested technologies and mechanisms to offset the emissions of polluters.
We’ve been talking about public service reform for so long now, and with so little to show for it, it’s as if we don’t expect it to happen anymore. And in this context, when we talk about technology and digital innovation, our public services tend to assume they can simply incorporate technology into existing systems in order to move faster or more cheaply. But this, argues Chris Yui, is to completely miss the point and the potential of digital to transform the public service relationship. The laser focus of the design process has to be – what does the user need?
Last time the travel restrictions were eased, there was an almost panicked exodus from the cities into the countryside with the result that many of the country’s beauty spots were trashed with litter and worse. In anticipation of a repeat performance, local authorities and communities have been making preparations by improving infrastructure and facilities for visitors. Despite their best efforts, if the experience of South Lanarkshire Council is anything to go by, King Canute had more chance of success. Each piece of litter is dropped by someone.
In the short history of the Scottish Parliament, it’s fair to say that the context of this election makes it by far and away the most important yet. The constitutional question is a constant backcloth to our politics – one that will eventually be resolved. But the enduring impact of the pandemic adds an altogether different dimension. In a thoughtful piece for the RSA, Chris Creegan and Adam Lang argue that national response must be genuinely bold in ambition and set it sights on a 30 year horizon. In their view, it comes down to this – can we actually get things done?
The Glenkens Community & Arts Trust (GCAT) was formed in 2001 as a direct result of the foot and mouth outbreak which severely knocked the area. The main aim of the trust has been to transform the derelict Victorian Kells Primary School into a centre for community, cultural and business activities. Within three months the local community had contributed enough funds to purchase the building and The CatStrand was on its way. Six years, and a £1 million fundraising campaign later, the building opened in September 2007. Named The CatStrand after the small stream which used to run underneath the…Find out more