‘A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching’. When Beveridge set out his sweeping reforms that would become the welfare state, he somehow managed to convey the spirit of the age – with a staggering 600,000 copies of the Government’s White Paper sold, his big ideas met almost universal approval. Although self-evidently not 1945, potentially this is still a ‘revolutionary moment’. The weekly display of social solidarity as we step outside to applaud frontline workers seems more than just a gesture of appreciation. For those few minutes, it actually feels as if we are reconnecting with something fundamental in ourselves and those around us – a revitalised duty of care to each other. And as politicians wrestle with the unenviable task of edging the country out of lockdown, let’s hope they also recognise the extraordinary opportunity that now presents itself to reset the country, and its economy, along very different lines than before. Perhaps not Beveridge 2.0 but a plan that is revolutionary nonetheless – a Just Recovery designed for the common good. ‘Patching’ our way to recovery, even if it were possible, would squander this chance to lay the foundations of a better future.
In the most recent briefing…
The term sustainable development must be one of the most used but hard to pin down phrases in the lexicon of the policy maker. And in the field of land reform it may soon become the most contested. Introduced by the 2016 Land Reform Act as another mechanism to permit community ownership, the question of what does and doesn’t constitute sustainable development is set to become the most radical (and contentious) provision yet by which communities can assert their right to buy. Radical because this is an absolute or compulsory right to buy. Land Commissioner Megan MacInnes explains.
Irrespective of whether it was when they learned their landowner had submitted plans for a large wind farm which they feared would cause local contamination from old lead mines, or when they discovered their bowling green and clubhouse had been sold from under their feet, the villagers of Wanlockhead, in Dumfries and Galloway had had enough. They decided the future of the village should lie in their hands. Three years of on-off negotiations with the Duke of Buccleuch have reached the point where there is finally real optimism that the highest village in Scotland will soon be under community ownership.
There is an unmistakable trend in the housing association sector toward mergers and acquisitions of small community led housing associations by the bigger national organisations. There is also a sense that this is officially endorsed by the Scottish Housing Regulator and that the shadow of the Regulator is a constant, and not always welcome, presence in the affairs of housing associations. One of the few remaining fully mutual housing coops in the country, Hunters Hall in Craigmillar, is the latest to fall prey. In years to come, I suspect we’ll regret the loss of these locally controlled housing providers.
If you’re already active within your community, it’s probably no surprise that so many local groups have been stepping up all across the country, and in so many different ways, in response to this crisis. But for many – possibly the majority of the population – much of this will come as a bit of a surprise. And this new realisation that communities are capable of delivering a complex range of critically important services may well whet an appetite for more of this localised activity once the crisis is over. Caitlin Logan writing in Bella Caledonia shares some thoughts on this.
Only at times of genuine crisis does it become really clear where true priorities lie. In relation to the NHS it was clear from the start that Covid-19 was the number one priority and a consensus was built around that premise. The planning system however, which we are told values early public engagement above all else, has developed no such consensus around how it should operate during the crisis. Instead, it has become apparent just how little value is placed on transparent decision making, open to public scrutiny. Democracy it seems can be dispensed with when it suits.
The President of Ireland is the head of state and directly elected by the Irish people. Although the position is considered to be largely ceremonial, the present incumbent and his predecessors seem to have been able to exercise a degree of soft power (the ability to influence and attract others by force of their personna rather than through more coercive means). I always find the current President, Michael D. Higgins an engaging and thoughtful character. Here he sets out his thoughts on the lessons to be learned from the pandemic.
Last year saw the centenary of the legislation that launched a massive programme of council house building. 500,000 houses across the UK in the first three years is an illustration of what can be achieved when the aim is to provide social housing rather than to enable profitable housing development. But even before the legislation was passed, Dundee City Council had established itself as a pioneer in the field of social housing. The Logie Estate – still a popular place to live – was the first estate in Europe to incorporate a district heating system. Good design made to last.
As the Government tries to work out what to do about its public finances, our whole attitude towards taxation is going to be critical. And it’s fair to say that in the main, as a country, we’ve tended to be fairly ambivalent about paying tax. Seen by many as an unwelcome burden and, with the help of expensive advisers, something to be minimised by fair means or foul. Indeed the UK has become something of a tax haven for the world’s ultra rich. James Kirkup from Social Market Foundation argues we need to rethink the whole purpose of tax.