‘I’m kept at a distance’. This was how a young woman with a learning disability described to me her experience of trying to enrol at her local college. The admissions officer had been unable or unwilling – she wasn’t sure which – to adapt the system to meet her needs. Her frustration was palpable. I was at a gathering of the Glasgow Disability Alliance – a 4,000 strong network run by and for disabled people. This was an impressive affair. Aside from the sheer numbers in attendance, there was a solidarity and unity of purpose about the event which was simply to affirm that every citizen, irrespective of disability, has an inviolable right to play a full and active part in society. But as the many contributions from the floor made clear, we are some way from delivering on this most basic of human rights – system change being required on so many levels. Until then, GDA and others will continue to demonstrate the transformative impact that relatively small, well placed interventions can have on peoples’ lives. But for that young woman never again to feel she is being ‘kept at a distance’, each and every one of us must play our part.
In the most recent briefing…
For almost three years now, work has been underway to scrutinise our planning system and consider how it might become less of a contested space for civic Scotland. Now the talking is almost done and we’re getting to the business end of the proceedings. In its report, the scrutinising committee for the Bill called for substantial improvements. The Minister responded last week, offering few concessions and in yesterday’s Parliamentary debate, the battle lines were laid down for the next stage of the process. Earlier this week, over 70 communities signed an open letter to the Minister.
Many years ago, I got a call from someone in an organisation called Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society. I’d never heard of SAGS and knew little about allotments other than a vague idea that an allotment should be able to feed a family of four for a year. The person who called wanted to talk to me about allotments as a driver of community development and to explain the multiple benefits that a well-run site could deliver. I was sceptical but agreed to meet. After a two hour induction into the world of allotments, I was a convert.
Over the past few months hundreds of people across Scotland have been talking about food. Kitchen Table Talks was conceived as an appetiser to the main course – a consultation on Scotland’s food system and how new legislation might transform Scotland into a Good Food Nation. But that main course has yet to appear from the Scottish Government’s kitchen – and it was supposed to be served up last year. Now that the report from Kitchen Table Talks is published, the message to the Scottish Government is loud and clear – Bring on that Food Bill!
Back in 2016, Scottish Community Alliance published this report. We called it A Vision for a Stronger Community Sector and in it we identified a wide number of actions that we felt were needed if Scotland was to have a more robust and sustainable community sector. One of the key demands was for a national programme of business support that was better suited to community owned businesses and in particular would help community organisations in the very early stages of business start-up. To its credit Scottish Government has responded positively. The Enterprise Accelerator programme is now up and running.
At Senscot’s AGM last week there was a familiar ring to the discussion. Why, despite all the rhetoric does our sector continue to get crumbs from the public procurement table? Even with the Procurement Reform Bill in place and with its emphasis on community benefit, none of the hoped for changes have occurred. Even if the political will exists, procurement practice appears stuck in the past. If part of the problem is the perception that our sector is too small to compete, part of the solution might be to build consortia. This new how-to guide should help.
There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests commissioners of public services would do well to quell their natural inclination to procure services from the large corporates that can churn out tenders at the drop of a hat – the recent crash and burn performance of Carrillion should be reason enough. And while gaining an understanding of the needs of the smaller, local provider might take a little longer at first, in the long run the benefits of supporting the local supplier can be huge. Locality have produced a short 5 step guide for elected members and commissioners.
In England, the Localism Act 2011 was greeted with guarded optimism – never short of ambition but always difficult to see how the promised transformation and the fundamental shift of power would happen. And so it has transpired. In an attempt to reboot the process, Locality launched the Commission on the Future of Localism. Their summary report contains some interesting findings – useful source material for anyone in Scotland with an interest in Democracy Matters. The national conversation for which was launched this week.
Roughly one in four people don’t have any pension provision other than the state pension. For many, that’s the reality of living in a low wage, gig economy – people just can’t afford to make the sacrifice. Nonetheless millions of people do make regular contributions and it’s estimated that there’s around £2tn sitting in our collective pension pot. What do the fund managers do with that money? Nothing particularly productive from the public good perspective, says Aditya Chakrobotti writing in The Guardian. Why on earth don’t we demand more? A good question.