Chatting recently with a former MSP, long since retired but with a keen eye on national and local politics, he shared his dismay at the sorry state of local government. Myriad reasons for this decline, with no easy answers, but its impact is being felt everywhere. The recent unilateral decision by the First Minister to freeze council taxes revealed much about the low esteem in which councils are held, and just how normalised this disdain for local government has become. Lest we forget, it is for locally elected councils to determine their council tax rate – not the Scottish Government. But if we’re serious about rebuilding local democracy, and particularly if we’re ever to bridge the yawning chasm that lies between communities and the most local tier of government, the difficult truth is that councils will need more power, not less, before they concede anything of consequence to communities. To that end, here’s a very moderate proposal (cue lead balloons) – the Scottish Government should devolve every last penny of its funding for communities to councils and their community planning partners, and instead only fund 3rd sector organisations with national reach. Of course, this will never happen. And therein lies the problem.
In the most recent briefing…
The law as it pertains to Scotland’s system of crofting is by all accounts Byzantine in its complexity and the number of lawyers who practise it with any expertise is vanishingly small. Which perhaps explains why the creation of a new breed of croft – the woodland croft – has taken so long to gain official approval as a productive use of Scotland’s national forest estate. Not surprisingly, it is on community owned woodland that most progress has been made. Fantastic news that six new woodland crofts have just been approved in Tiroran Community Forest on Mull. Hats off to SWMID and Woodland Crofts.
In the last edition, it was reported that Reidvale Housing Association had fallen victim to the trend in social housing promoting mergers and the acquisition of small housing associations by the housing behemoths that operate right across the UK. It seemed that all the benefits of community controlled housing, once lauded by all and sundry, had been completely forgotten. Well, not it seems by those that matter most – the tenants themselves. An eleventh hour vote by the tenants, has overwhelmingly rejected the proposed takeover by People for Places. There’s life in the community housing movement yet.
Anyone who has spent any time on a community council will be familiar with the sense of impotence that comes with trying to monitor the endless stream of planning applications submitted by developers and then the subtle (and not so subtle) variations to those applications that appear to slip through unnoticed. A useful tool under development by Planning Democracy is designed to take some of the pain out of the process. Well worth a look even though for at least 11 local authorities, who use software called Pulsant, access to their planning portals continues to be blocked. You know who you are.
One of the few lawyers to understand crofting legislation and, most importantly, how to turn it to community advantage, was Simon Fraser, who died in 2016 at the age of just 60. He was by all accounts a remarkable man but it was as a lawyer and for his work to enable the early community land buyouts that he will be best remembered. The inaugural Simon Fraser Memorial Lecture, organised by Community Land Scotland, was held last week where we learned a little more about the man. Those of us who never knew him left wishing that we had.
The town of Frome in Somerset first came to prominence in 2011 when a group of local residents concluded that local politics should be about local issues rather than national party political affiliations. Town Council elections were approaching and they decided to stand on a ticket of ‘Independents for Frome’. Winning ten of the seventeen seats at the first time of asking, they went on to win every seat at all subsequent Council elections. More accountability, greater transparency and more engagement in community affairs all sound like strong arguments for more independent councillors. Evidence suggests that it’s happening.
There is something about private wealth that restricts the debate about how much is enough and the extent to which it should be possible to limit any individual’s right to have colossal amounts of it. Whether it’s a hangover from when ‘trickle down’ economics still held some sway, or the fear of being accused of the politics of envy, it continues to be a rarity for politician in a position of power who agrees that wealth beyond a certain point is bad for society – despite all the evidence that it is. Important to keep this debate alive.
The community of Kirkshaws is located at the southern edge of Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire. Kirkshaws Neighbourhood Centre (KNC) was established in 1989 with support from Urban Aid funding to convert an ‘old housing stock’ 3 storey tenement into a community facility. Over the years there have been significant changes in the areas physical appearance, in particular through improvements to existing housing stock and the construction of new properties. KNC recognises that ‘bricks and mortar don’t make a community’ and improved housing alone has not addressed some of the underlying issues experienced by local people. KNC tries to provide support…Find out more