Nordic countries get a pretty good press. One or other of them generally comes out on top of the league tables for being all of those things a country might wish to be – the happiest, the best educated, the most trusting and so on – they’ve even cornered the market in cosiness (hygge). No surprise then, that the Nordic model of local government is frequently referenced as a paragon of democratic virtue. But last week, I spent some time with a group of Swedish local politicians and their comments about Scotland’s continuing shift towards community empowerment gave me pause for thought. Although the Swedish people take huge pride in the quality of their public services and seem to accept a high tax burden as the price they have to pay, there’s a sting in the tail – Swedes have become increasingly disinclined to take on active voluntary roles within their communities. Turnout at elections is around 80% – a remarkable figure – but surely there’s more to being an active citizen than an occasional visit to the polling booth? If Sweden’s hyper-local system of representative democracy has effectively emasculated citizen led action, perhaps we should be a little wary about what we wish for.
In the most recent briefing…
A highlight from this week’s DTAS conference came from Jane Lamont of Beith Community Development Trust during the main plenary session. Describing an exercise in which they gathered views about what people liked and disliked about their community, a large map of the area was carted round pubs, clubs and shops. Over 1000 people contributed their ideas, all of which were incorporated onto the map. The whole exercise cost less than £500. She compared this with a subsequent charrette (same idea, fancier name) that cost tens of thousands of pounds, and involved less than 50 people.
Jimmy McGovern’s latest TV series, Broken, depicts a deeply impoverished urban community somewhere in the north of England. The central character is the local priest (Sean Bean) who, while dealing with his own personal demons, is the saving grace for the many fragile and vulnerable souls that stumble into his church. One episode shines a light on the insidious nature of fixed odds betting terminals (FOTB) which have proliferated across our poorest communities. These machines are truly awful. Victoria Coren-Mitchell, writing in the Guardian, knows a thing or two about gambling. She lets rip.
Last weekend, my neighbours literally reclaimed their street. Barriers with street closed signs went up at either end, a basketball net came out, kids on scooters whizzed up and down and tables and chairs started to appear. The sun even shone. To their great credit, our Council has decided to encourage this kind of activity and has made it a simple process to apply for permission. It was all good fun but Rob Wheway of the Children’s Play Advisory Service argues this kind of innovation could have a much wider impact.
The recent announcement that companies must publish the pay gap between their highest and lowest paid employees is unlikely to change anything other than to confirm what we already know about wealth inequality and board room greed. At McDonalds, which experienced its first globally coordinated industrial action on Monday, the CEO earns 1,196 times the wage of the average ‘crew member’. As you’d expect, Scotland’s social enterprise sector is somewhat different. Statistics on pay differentials within our sector along with many other facts and figures are contained in the 2017 Census which is published today.
Back in the day when Donald Trump’s star shone brightly enough to bedazzle our politicians into awarding him accolades and, eventually, permission to build his golf course on the precious sand dunes of Aberdeenshire, the integrity of our planning system was placed under intense scrutiny. In particular questions were raised about the extent to which the ‘cult of celebrity’ had played its part. These same questions are now being asked about another celebrity driven (albeit home-grown) development. The community denounced last week’s decision by the Planning Minister as a funeral for democracy.
Yesterday, the First Minister announced a number of measures in her speech to relaunch Scottish Government’s programme for government. In her speech, she pointed to the need to recalibrate the relationship between local government and our sector in pursuit of better outcomes and better public services. Nothing new there you might think. We’ve heard it all before. What will catalyse this change? Perhaps the Local Democracy Bill when it emerges, but until then local council leaders could do worse than beat a path to Wigan.
Loneliness has finally surfaced on the national radar as something that we can no longer ignore. The causes are complex and hard to resolve. And the consequences are equally complex and damaging – both to the individual’s health and mental well-being and to society in terms of the multiple costs of dealing with its effects. The Scottish Government is now committed to bringing forward a national strategy to tackle the problem and our sector is likely to be front and centre of any approaches that are agreed. Senscot have published a useful briefing paper on the subject.
What the difference between lemmings and those in charge of delivering the long awaited changes to social care? Not much, if the recent report from Audit Scotland is to be believed. Despite all the evidence that the social care system is heading towards the financial abyss and in need of radical overhaul, institutional inertia appears to be everywhere. Despite everyone talking the talk of self-directed support, very few seem to be walking the walk. And time is running out.