The sustained success of Silicon Valley is attributed to a phenomenon called disruptive innovation – what’s happening today must be disrupted before what’s coming tomorrow can flourish. A somewhat dispiriting tale, retold recently from the NHS frontline, suggests our public services could use some of that disruption. An elderly patient was set to be discharged after an extended stay in hospital. The discharge nurse, concerned that the patient would return to an empty house with no food, had the gumption to phone round local organisations seeking a solution. It transpired that not only could food be arranged, but also a friendly face to settle him back into his home. When informed the cost of this service would be £50, the discharge was promptly cancelled and the cost of a further night in hospital – c.£500 – duly absorbed by the NHS. It was simply not within the nurse’s gift to make a decision that was clearly in everyone’s interests. These monolithic structures that still deliver many of our public services were designed in an era when rigid hierarchies demanded absolute compliance with all manner of arcane rules. Rules which now routinely serve to disempower our frontline staff. Rules that need to be disrupted.
In the most recent briefing…
In the mid-17th century, the earliest seeds of the modern allotment movement were sown by a radical group led by religious reformer, Gerrard Winstanley, who began challenging contemporary notions of land ownership by asserting the right of everyone to cultivate land for food. And so it continues to this day. Scotland’s allotmenteers launched a new publication at their annual conference earlier this month. Galvanising Grassroots aims to inspire everyone to get digging and enjoy the pleasure of seeing things grow. Groups like this one in Wellhouse show us what’s possible.
In 2000, a major programme of neighbourhood renewal in England was embarked upon called New Deal for Communities. The programme was notable for a number of important reasons. Firstly, it was a lot of money (£2bn) shared between a relatively small number of neighbourhoods (39). Secondly, it was over the long term (10 years or more). Thirdly, and most significantly, local people were to be in control of each programme. It had so much going for it and yet the results have been mixed. The area of Liverpool that got most money seems to have fared worst of all. Why?
Whenever there is a debate about how arts and culture should be valued in society, we usually begin by describing their intrinsic value, and how our lives are immeasurably enriched by their presence. But when it comes to the harsh reality of making ends meet, most arts groups end up competing with each other for what little support is available from the public purse. With an ever dwindling pot of arts funding, it has never been more important to generate income from within. A really well written how-to-do-this guide from Voluntary Arts Scotland and DTAS.
Something is missing from the East Lothian skyline – two tall chimneys and the massive structure of the Cockenzie Power Station have been demolished. After living in its shadow for over 50 years, the nearby communities of Port Seaton, Cockenzie and Preston Pans envisaged a whole new future for the site – much of it under community control. These communities, working together as the Coastal Regeneration Alliance, believed their business case was strong but Scottish Government clearly thought otherwise. That said, pursuing the community for legal costs hardly seems in the spirit of community empowerment.
Every community has a church, some even have a few, and many are struggling to survive as places of worship. They remain however, significant community assets and there is surely a debate to be had, both locally and nationally, about the future of these important buildings and how to dispose of them. Some communities like Portobello have moved mountains to secure their church building for future community use. But not all communities have the capacity to work quite as hard. Perhaps it’s time for Church hierarchies to consider their position in relation to asset transfer? Work underway in England.
It’s probably fair to say that if Porto Alegre is the Everest of the Participatory Budgeting Himalayas, here in Scotland we’re still walking through the foothills. This month’s announcement of another round of Community Choices Funding (covert rebranding exercise underway) will certainly help to maintain the momentum although no one will be reaching for the oxygen. There will come a time however when the process needs to make the quantum leap from distributing small grants around local groups to where the decisions fundamentally impact on mainstream services. The commitment on 1% of local government spending should help.
One of the longest running anomalies in Scotland’s public sector is the question of why we have two very different economic development agencies to serve one relatively small country. Scottish Enterprise with its ‘business growth and nothing else’ agenda and HIE with a clear remit to integrate ‘community and culture’ within economic development. Now Scottish Government has announced that South of Scotland, previously under the remit of Scottish Enterprise, is to have its own agency – one which sounds very akin to HIE. Which has to be good news. But now we have three.
Those with long memories may remember the demise of Rural Forum in 1999. Many argued at the time that rural Scotland and in particular rural communities, had lost an important and distinctive voice within the policy arena. That’s probably why it wasn’t long before a few key activists started to agitate for something else to fill the gap. It may have taken longer than they would have wanted, and it’s not Rural Forum 2.0, but there’s no doubt Scottish Rural Action has been well supported by Scottish Government since 2014. A big announcement from the Cabinet Secretary last week.