Even the Government’s own supporters acknowledge that its ‘big idea’ for reforming the social security system (Universal Credit) has become an unmitigated disaster. That said, ever since Beveridge ushered in the welfare state, social security has evolved into an impossibly complex set of benefits and as such, reform is long overdue. But beyond tinkering at the edges, successive governments have consistently baulked at the prospect of rethinking the concept of ‘cradle to grave’ welfare. So if not Universal Credit and a decade of austerity-driven cuts elsewhere, what next for the welfare state? The Social Prosperity Network argue that many of the welfare systems (not just social security) which were designed for the 20th century, no longer serve their purpose. The abject failure of our economy to deliver prosperous lives for so many citizens has led them to propose a 21st century reboot of the welfare state shaped around a set of seven Universal Basic Services - some of which, like healthcare and education, already exist and serve as templates. A meticulous costing exercise suggests fiscal neutrality but the real attraction is twofold – citizens being enabled to lead ‘larger lives’ within their communities and an emphasis on local delivery. Two more reasons why local Democracy Matters.
In the most recent briefing…
A week after the IPCC tried to focus the world’s attention on the perils of gobbling up the world’s resources like there’s no tomorrow (which of course, is the point) fracking operations restarted in the north of England. Scotland currently has a moratorium on fracking – but that’s not a ‘forever ban’. Scotland’s central belt is considered a prime site and the frackers are lining up to make their case. A final consultation is now underway. A small group of community councils around Falkirk are taking up the cudgel and are calling on community councils across Scotland to join them.
American Vice Presidents don’t usually linger very long in the popular memory. Al Gore is probably the exception. His film An Inconvenient Truth aimed to raise awareness of global warming and it set him on a path that has become his defining work. He founded the Climate Reality Project which aims to empower communities to fight climate change. The Project trains people to become Climate Reality Leaders whose role is to inform and animate community action. A great example of this is the emergence of Climate Cafes – self-starting, informal gatherings where folk can share their ideas and concerns.
As a record of this year’s Community Land Week a series of short films were made – each one giving a different flavour of the local circumstances and the people who made these community acquisitions possible. One in particular stood out for the links it made between what’s happening in Scotland and the global community land movement. Our complex relationship with land begins to make much more sense when placed alongside some of the struggles that communities elsewhere have faced. When Action Porty told their story alongside Milka Chepkorir, a community activist from Kenya, surprising parallels emerged.
In the 10 years since Airbnb first appeared as a benign addition to the ‘sharing economy’, it has become a tourism behemoth, blamed for destroying communities and distorting the housing market. Some european cities have acted swiftly to regulate and curb its influence and now Scotland’s planning laws look like they are starting to wake up to the threat. Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman has long campaigned for reforms to the housing market and now, under the umbrella of, he looks to have won a major victory with an important amendment to the Planning Bill.
In a country awash with natural renewable energy, it’s always irked that we’ve been unable to do anything about the fact that so many people still have to decide whether or not they can afford to turn their heating on. When some of the big RSL’s started to become involved in power generation so that their tenants could benefit from cheaper electricity, it seemed like a step in the right direction.was formed and Scottish Government provided substantial early investment. So why has Scottish Government just announced plans to set up a rival?
Anyone reading the trade journals of the ‘third sector’ can’t fail to have noticed the steady stream of stories of inappropriate staff behaviour, governance failure or the eye-watering salaries and payoffs to departing CEOs. All of which serve to reinforce the view that the thousands of small, volunteer led organisations working at the frontline of communities across the country have nothing whatsoever in common with these mega-charities and their ‘corporate’ instincts. If we think we’re all one big family we’re deluding ourselves. We just need to be clear about where the lines lie.
A new report from a group of academics at Sheffield University have made what they hope will be a useful contribution to the debate about the future of local democracy in Scotland. The report suggests that roughly half of the current local authorities should be scrapped. The methodology they appear to have used in order to come to this conclusion is data from commuters and an algorithm that gathers together those areas that have the strongest ties. Surely there must be more to drawing boundary lines than commuter ‘desire lines’ and fancy algorithms?
Last month an incident occurred in a small village in southern Italy which serves to highlight the value of an embedded system of local democracy. When the village’s mayor disagreed with those who sit in national government over how migrants should be treated, he was placed under house arrest. Some 5,000 people took to the streets in support of their mayor. Not only was this an illustration of civic strength but also an expression of popular dissent towards a national policy. With our longstanding deficit in local democracy, it’s inconceivable that any of that might happen here.