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2nd May 2018

At a recent event, I started chatting with the person next to me and asked him (as you do) what he did. He replied he was ‘in public service’ which struck me as a curiously old-fashioned way to describe a job that most people would understand as a civil servant.  I wondered whether the distinction he’d made reflected something particular about his approach to his work.  And apparently it did – he saw himself as being literally ‘in service to the public’. It made for an interesting conversation during which I shared my own very contrasting experience of working for one of Scotland’s larger local authorities over twenty years ago, where the prevailing culture was often aggressively confrontational – both internally and externally.  It’s fair to say that it wasn’t a happy workplace and certainly not one where such an ethos of ‘public service’ could easily flourish. But that was all in a very different era.  The policy rhetoric which predominates today, calling for power and decision-making to be placed with communities, and deliberately blurring the lines between the citizen and the state, is effectively calling time on old-school ‘public service’. A shiny, new 2.0 version is required. Is there one?


In the most recent briefing…

    • Big screen never fades

      Scotland has had a long and at times almost addictive relationship with the cinema. By the late 1930’s, Glasgow had more cinema seats per head of population than any other city in the world and in 1951 the average Scot went to the cinema 36 times a year. It was a matter of civic pride for any town of a certain size to have its own picture house.  One of the very first purpose built cinemas in Scotland was in Campbeltown. 105 years on, the Campbeltown Picture House has been lovingly restored by the community.


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    • Follow up with feedback

      How often have you fed in comments, responded to a consultation or contributed at an event where the organisers say they’ll gather up the post-its and flipcharts, produce a summary of your contributions and send it off to Government or some other recipient of feedback – only for you never to hear anything more about it. Scottish Government has been consulting on a new Culture Strategy for Scotland and Voluntary Arts Scotland has been gathering views from some of Scotland’s 10,000+ creative-led groups. Hats off to VAS for this bit of follow-up feedback to those contributed.


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    • Developers up the ante

      It’s a well-known ploy of the developer – submit planning application, gain planning permission, and when the development is on site, submit further proposals to amend the scope and scale of the development.  In the normal run of things, these tactics are hugely frustrating for communities. But when it’s a wind farm developer and the proposed changes would create not only the tallest structures ever built on Scottish soil but effectively kill off the community’s aspiration to build their own windfarm, you’d think the planning authority might protect community interests. Nothing so straightforward in the Western Isles.


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    • The Young Returners

      There’s always a risk in jumping to conclusions – particularly if that conclusion suits your argument. However it is becoming increasing hard to resist drawing some sort of correlation between population growth and community land ownership. Particularly in the islands, population decline has been spectacularly reversed with community ownership. Gigha and Eigg have been notable successes and now something similar is being witnessed in Uist. Most of the islands there have been in community ownership for 11 years and in that time the birth rate has increased by two thirds. A research project if ever there was.


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    • Cost to the public purse

      Those who oppose the community land movement often cite the levels of public subsidy required to make land acquisitions happen. Notwithstanding the extensive tax breaks and subsidies that private landowners take advantage of, there’s been some interest recently in the level of public subsidy that goes to the private sector more generally, particularly to companies that subsequently go bust. Often this support is accompanied by spurious predictions of the economic benefits that will follow. Scottish Enterprise’s own research reckons only 30% of these predictions are accurate, and while 20% will understate eventual performance, a whopping 50% fail to get close.


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    • Bump in the UBI road

      In recent years, a perceptible momentum has been building around the idea of a citizen’s income. The argument that we need to fundamentally change how we think about social security and instead consider the option of providing every citizen with a minimum level of income has slowly taken root around the world. Scotland is about to join the front runners in this field of social innovation with pilots scheduled to begin later this year in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and North Ayrshire. But out in front for some time now has been Finland. That growing momentum may just have stalled.


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    • Innovate, Innovate, Innovate.

      Scotland is lop-sided. 98% of the country’s land mass is rural but less than 20% of Scots choose to live in it. It’s this urban/rural split that broadly shapes the direction of national policy and in particular, Scottish Government’s investment strategies. Many blame Scottish Government’s largely urban-centric focus for the lack of a more dynamic rural environment. But a recent OECD conference on rural innovation (held in Edinburgh!) painted a very different picture of what could be achieved in the rural hinterland. Instilling a culture of constant innovation seems to be the key.


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    • We need leaders

      Margaret Wheatley is an American thinker who writes on a broad range of interests – organisational change, systems theory, chaos theory, leadership and community. She works all over the world as a management consultant in many different environments, advising on different challenges but with a message that remains remarkably consistent. It’s usually about scale, about trusting in local solutions and about strong community leadership. Her latest book, Who do we choose to be? talks about the challenges of leadership at a time of profound disruption. This could be a timely intervention.


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