Having sat in on a couple of events last week, I’m really beginning to feel my age. The first was a conflab about the nature of leadership (everyone’s a leader these days) which I found to be somewhat dispiriting but also quite provocative. Too much time was spent bemoaning the inequities of the sector’s funding system until one young woman, who had been sitting quietly throughout, began venting her frustration, opining that the real problem lies much closer to home. Highlighting the fast-changing, technology-driven world we all live in, she suggested rather pointedly that some of us, frankly, aren’t keeping up. Then casting around the room she asked, with some justification, why almost everyone seemed to be from the same demographic. Similar criticism could have been levelled at the second event – an update from Julia Unwin on the Inquiry into the Future of Civil Society in England. The audience was a bit of a who’s who of Scotland’s civil society, most of whom could trace their organisational roots to the last century, and some even further. On that basis alone, just how fit for purpose are we, given the challenges that lie ahead? Perhaps it’s time to ring the changes.
In the most recent briefing…
The development trust movement gathered in Aberdeen this week for their annual sell-out conference. In his keynote address, Scottish Government Minister Kevin Stewart MSP commended their outstanding achievements, and outlined how the Scottish Government is committed to support their work. That said, during the Q&A session the perennial demand from the floor for sustained levels of core funding received the perennial soft-shoe shuffle response from the podium, so perhaps a new approach is called for. The case being built in England to establish a Community Wealth Fund is compelling and one that could and should have ramifications for Scotland.
Historians claim the concept of money first appeared around 5000 years ago. But money can be fickle – just try asking the Venezuelans how much they value the notes in their pocket. And if money is in short supply or of little value, it doesn’t take long for a barter economy to emerge. Exchanging services by bartering has a serious upside too – human connections are established, trust is built and community cohesion is often seen to increase. No one is going to get rich but that’s not the point. The Govanhill People’s Bank have other priorities.
When William Beveridge conceived the welfare state, his vision was of a ‘shared project’ between the state and the population at large. 60 years on many now feel that we have strayed too far from Beveridge’s original vision. We expect, in return for paying our taxes, everything for free without any obligation on our part. That outlook is being challenged by a new NHS focused charity – Helpforce – which could, if it catches on as its founder hopes, transform the health services of every community in the country. It makes a lot of sense.
With the completion of the Skye bridge, the old ferry route from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin was consigned to CalMac’s archives. But one small ferry continues to cross the tidal narrows from Glenelg to Kylerhea. This one is a real gem – it’s the last sea-going, manually operated, turntable ferry in the world. And it has been under community ownership since 2007. It’s been making the crossing since 1934 and now it is notable for yet another reason, At the tender age of 21, local woman, Isabelle Law, has just become the ferry’s first ever female skipper.
Attend any debate on the future of social care and apart from the growing sense of desperation that becomes ever more evident as the affordability precipice approaches, there’s usually a bit of a spat between the sectors – public/private/not for profit – as to who provides the best quality or best value service. What rarely seems to get any air time is the feasibility of shifting the whole paradigm of social care provision. Understandable, given the vested interests involved, but at some point soon this needs to change. New Economics Foundation is knocking at the door.
There’s a serious policy disconnect within Scottish Government. The community sector has never before had so much attention from the policy spotlight, with communities assuming roles and responsibilities that have previously been the sole preserve of the public sector. Running in parallel (but in the opposite direction) is the steady disinvestment in what used to be called ‘community work’. The remnants of what once was a significant nationwide workforce are now left clinging to a few local authorities and voluntary organisations. Scottish Government is now trying to get a sense of who’s still out there and in particular, who’s doing what.
When food banks first started to appear there was a sense of outrage that this could even be happening in such a wealthy country, but it didn’t take long for their use to become normalised and now there’s little expectation of them being just a temporary fix – food banks and other community based responses to food poverty are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Which is why the folk at Nourish Scotland are back with their partners to offer some guidance to community food providers about what they do and, most importantly how they do it. The Dignity Programme is open for business.
If an opinion poll asked people to rank the issues that currently concern them the most, it would be interesting to see if climate change even made it into the top three. Despite the evidence which is now increasingly all around us, there still appears to be a general ambivalence about demanding that our politicians make hard choices in order to safeguard the future of the planet. A recently published report makes it very clear just how radical these changes have to be. But when you see who the biggest climate polluters are, you get a sense of how hard they’ll be lobbying governments to downplay their impact.