Despite being woefully under-resourced and under-powered, routinely ignored by local councils and often maligned by public caricature, the fact that 1,200 community councils continue to meet on a regular basis across Scotland is a remarkable tale of civic durability. It’s 45 years since they were first established – a sop to those who railed against the erosion of local democracy when burgh and town councils were disbanded in the 1970’s – and so what’s about to happen has not only been a long time coming, but it’s likely to be an uncomfortable ride for anyone who thinks the current democratic stasis is acceptable. Scottish Government and COSLA are committing themselves to a fundamental rethink of how and where local decision making should happen, particularly in relation to the resources and services that are deployed across our communities. The sceptics will scoff, decrying it as a box-ticking exercise in community engagement. But others – and don’t forget that COSLA published this not so long ago – know all too well that local democracy in Scotland is on life support. Bold and radical ideas from all sides will be needed. It could well be last chance saloon for our community councils. Thinking caps on everyone.
In the most recent briefing…
Some years ago, senior police officer John Carnochan, spoke at a community sector conference describing the ground breaking work of the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) which he had been responsible for setting up in Glasgow. The approach that the VRU pioneered was essentially a holistic one and involved working across health, social work, education and voluntary agencies in a whole community approach. Recent research coming out of America which correlates a thriving community sector with plummeting crime rates will come as no surprise to the VRU founder.
Social enterprise is often referred to as a new business model for the 21st century, suggesting that the whole concept is still relatively new and finding its feet. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Social enterprise, and more so community based social enterprise, has a long and proud tradition and once that is understood, it’s impossible not to see today’s variants in a very different light. Steve Wyler, who previously ran the DTA south of the border, is a naturally gifted historian and tells a great story of our sector’s proud heritage.
There was a time when cinemas were on every high street – often as an art deco inspired architectural delight. Most of these have given way to the multiplex with only a few arthouse cinemas clinging on. But the intrinsic joy of going to your local cinema has never faded completely and in the more remote parts of the country, their contribution to overcoming a degree of social and cultural isolation has long been valued. This is why community-led cinema continues to flourish. Fascinating insights into this alt-cinema movement just out from Senscot.
Despite all that’s said about Scotland’s planning system being designed so that communities can get involved early in the process, the reality is almost always one of having to react to a perceived threat or loss of amenity. The forthcoming Planning Bill may or may not advance the interests of communities but in the meantime, a very useful new publication – The Planning Journey: 10 Junctions has just appeared, courtesy of DTAS’s Community Ownership Support Service. Read this and your next encounter with the planning system might just be a little less bruising.
A tipping point may have been reached in what seems like an endless debate about how local government – the local state – should function in the future. For years it’s been clear that the old model of municipalism, constrained by a failing model of growth economics, is deeply flawed. But making the leap to a new paradigm is problematic – and not without risk. However a new, municipalist movement has begun to emerge around a rejuvenated notion of what the ‘commons’ can mean. New ways of thinking presented at the Fearless Cities summit in Barcelona offer genuine hope for the future.
Today’s funders walk a tightrope of having to be open, fair and transparent on the one hand and on the other, present as being an ‘intelligent’ funder that looks to build supportive relationships with those that it funds. They also have to prove they can move with the times and respond to shifts in the policy landscape. How, for instance, should funders respond to the call for communities to have more direct access to the decision-making process? Participatory budgeting is building its own head of steam. Could the same principles be applied to grant making?
The main talking points from the Chancellor’s budget speech last week focused on his attempts to ease aspects of the housing crisis – insufficient supply of houses at prices people can afford. The issue is always presented as a conundrum without solution – a position that suits all those who have climbed the property ladder but leaves everyone else floundering in an overpriced private rented sector. But this is a misrepresentation. Plenty of land exists on which houses could be built. House prices aren’t the issue, it is the price of land that is to blame.
No one needs reminding that health services are under constant pressure (even more so at this time of the year) and there has been significant investment in trying to bridge the gap between frontline services and the communities in which they serve. For instance, a small army of Link Workers has been recruited recently with Scottish Government funding to build more effective relationships between GP practices and local organisations and services. Think tank, Res Publica, make the case for a complete re-evaluation of one resource in particular that can be found in almost every community – the community pharmacy.