Skimming a newsletter in my inbox, something caught my eye. A link to a new flagship Scottish Enterprise programme called Unlocking Ambition – a cohort of Scotland’s ‘most talented entrepreneurs’ are being hot-housed to become the next generation of ‘world class’ Scottish businesses. What really intrigued me was that every one of these shiny new entrepreneurs appeared as committed to achieving some kind of social or environmental good as they are to growing their profit margins. It seems that hankering after a social purpose has genuinely entered the world of private enterprise – and long may that continue. Meanwhile, and not to be confused in any way with these ‘purpose-led’ entrepreneurs unlocking their personal ambitions, large swathes of our sector continue to wrestle with the great myth of social enterprise – the fallacy that financially sustainable, community owned and run businesses can thrive in areas of market failure and with ever diminishing levels of public subsidy. Socially aware entrepreneurs should be applauded and even given public support to help them succeed. But ultimately, they will be judged by their profit or loss. Our sector, if it is to flourish, will always require significant public subsidy. And we shouldn’t apologise for that.
In the most recent briefing…
Every community has a different story to tell about itself – for some that’s about the here and now and for others it’s about the dim and distant past. In part, these stories are why so many people are prepared to commit time and effort to their community. Call it civic pride or community spirit, the relationship that exists between people and place is almost always shaped by a sense of shared heritage – be that the physical and built environment or the less tangible, cultural heritage of folklore, songs and creative expression. Excellent new briefing on this from Senscot.
There’s something about large scale, publicly funded infrastructure projects that should, at the very least, prevent them from being allowed to proceed without some form of super-intensive, independent public scrutiny (retrospective public inquiries serve little purpose other than to enrich the legal profession – Edinburgh Tram Inquiry to name but one). The sorry tale of the Cairngorm funicular along with serious amounts of wasted public investment has yet to be told in full – it’s likely to make for uncomfortable reading for HIE. At least in this instance, the community are ready and waiting to mop up the mess.
A central argument of those who lobby on behalf of Scotland’s largest landowners has long been that the whole premise of the land reform debate is ill-founded. The issue, they argue, is not so much about who owns the land (or how much they own) but how they use it. And often this is reinforced with arguments about economies of scale and the multiple benefits that flow from this. The inherent flaws of this argument have now been laid bare by the Scottish Land Commission’s most recent study. Community Land Scotland’s Calum MacLeod covers the ground.
I don’t mind admitting I’m not particularly financially literate. Which is why, when confronted with the arguments why the sector should be embracing all manner of social investment products and immersing itself in supply chain economics, I tend to glaze over. I suspect I’m not alone in being unable to articulate exactly why all these propositions they seem such a poor fit our sector. A useful rebuttal of the current zeitgeist from Navid Solami. He reserves particular criticism for the micro-finance craze which brought Mohammad Yunus the Nobel Peace Prize not so long ago.
Our natural environment is probably Scotland’s most treasured asset and yet few of us have any idea how much of it is under threat. It’s claimed that 8% of our wild species are at risk of extinction through climate change, pollution and loss of habitat. And now Brexit. With 80% of our legally binding environmental protections based in EU law, this is fast becoming a crisis. Scottish Environment Link, a coalition of environmental charities, is calling for a Scottish Environment Act. They would welcome your support.
With news that the number of food parcels is double previous estimates (nearly 500,000) it’s probably still only the tip of the food poverty iceberg. With the best will in the world on the part of the organisers, these community based food banks aimed at protecting what most people would argue is a basic human right – the right to food – struggle to safeguard the human dignity of users. And so, many will choose to endure hunger rather the perceived indignity. Theon new legislation that could change all that closes on 15th April.
Whatever emerges out of the Scottish Government’s Review of Local Governance we can be sure that the way citizens, communities, councils and other public bodies interact with one another will change. At the moment ‘community engagement’ is generally a stop-start, question-answer, exchange of view, top-down participatory process. It is, with the best will in the world, a sterile process that excites little civic passion. Perhaps then, we should look to Bologna where the city administration explicitly aims to boost the level of public imagination across the city.
If your council put a flier through your letterbox explaining that because of the budget cuts there would be no more street cleaning but that litter-pickers and black bin bags would be provided for any willing helpers, the response might be somewhat less than positive. But that’s not to say that communities are necessarily always averse to picking up the slack when times are hard for councils. Perhaps it comes down to how the request for help is made or how a sense of collective responsibility can be engendered. Whatever it is, Aberdeenshire Council seems to have it.