The more time I spend around policy makers and politicians the less I understand them. Years spent trying to analyse and second guess why Ministers will pledge one thing but often end up doing another, and the part played in all that by their civil servants, special advisors and those super-cautious government lawyers, have left me none the wiser but increasingly sceptical. And beyond that strange alchemy of internal actors, the role of the professional lobbyist and the unerring ability of powerful outside interests to get their way just adds to a general sense of powerlessness. Take land reform for instance. New legislation is to be laid before the Scottish Parliament next month. This is a Bill that Ministers have promised will be transformative in diversifying land ownership and ensuring that land is used in the public interest for the benefit of all and not just the few. The published analysis of the 500+ responses to the Bill’s consultation paper largely reinforces this Ministerial ambition and so most keen observers expect a suitably progressive Bill to appear. But the word coming down the line from officials is that those expectations should now be ‘managed’. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
In the most recent briefing…
A fascinating conversation hosted recently by Community Land Scotland explored some of the many ways in which communities might celebrate their cultural heritage and to what extent that complex relationship between land and the people is truly understood – not just by those who live there but by the policy makers whose work can have such an impact on their lives. The flipside of this powerful portrayal of ‘community’ was articulated recently in an article by Rhoda Meek which might serve as a note of caution to anyone who feels tempted to take on a leadership role in their community.
The relationship between landlord and tenant is largely a transactional one. The tenant pays a rent to the landlord and in return the landlord undertakes to provide that tenant with a certain level of housing service. In some cases, and community based housing associations in particular, there may also be an opportunity for the tenant to take on a role within the housing association’s board of management. Beyond this however, the extent to which any housing association might consider ‘investing’ in their tenants as part of its core business is limited. Interesting idea being developed by one English housing association.
When Scotland’s Climate Change Plan was first published it reflected what many believed to be a serious underestimation by the Scottish Government of the role and contribution that community action could play in tackling climate change. With a burgeoning network of Climate Action Hubs taking root around the country helping to support and sustain hundreds of local groups taking action to mitigate or adapt to climate change, hopefully that perception is changing. Many of these grass root climate groups will be responding to Stop Climate Chaos Scotland’s call to join a global day of action in advance of COP28.
Fifteen years ago, the UK Govt passed the Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Act which released millions of pounds for good causes – a scheme administered by the National Lottery Community Fund. Over the years, the scope of that legislation has gradually been extended to include other financial products such as pensions and insurance policies and the latest release of funds could run into hundreds of millions. UK Govt has consulted with the sector in England and Wales where a proposal to establish Community Wealth Funds has been accepted. It would help to know what the plans are for Scotland.
There are many reasons why the land reform cause has remained such a consistent thread running through the legislative programme of the Scottish Parliament. Probably the most compelling of these stems from the exceptionally concentrated patterns of ownership – so much of Scotland’s land being owned by so few people. Exceptional because Scotland is a complete outlier when compared to other European countries. Some recent research into the ownership of forested land published by the Forest Policy Group, concludes that in the past ten years, ownership has actually become more concentrated rather than less. Something’s clearly not working.
The fact that the Scottish Government remains committed to attracting private investment into what is an untested market of natural capital, carbon credits and offsetting, has inflated land values out of all proportion. This is in spite of a report published by Community Land Scotland that drove a coach and horses through much of the financial rationale behind this new market. Nonetheless, assuming the Scottish Government and its financiers continue to drive this policy forward, it will be important to ensure that some community benefit can be extracted. Important recent work on this by the Scottish Land Commission.
The Stove Network brings together people who believe in the value of arts and culture and want to be involved in or support making creativity part of the place they live. Its membership consists of a diverse group of artists and other active citizens, including café-owners, wild food chefs, video artists, DJs, local businesses and retirees. The Stove has run a number of very successful projects with high levels of community engagement. It’s the only artist-led Community Development Trust in the UK and in 2016, was awarded the Scottish Regeneration Award for Creativity in Regeneration. One of the Stove’s most…Find out more