Last year, I just missed out on being picked for jury duty. It would have been my first time and I was seriously disappointed not to make the final cut. Although I’ll admit this was mainly due to the intriguing nature of the case, there was something else gnawing away in the background. I felt I’d been denied the chance to fulfil one of the few civic responsibilities still required of us, as citizens. Remarkably, our legal system holds the view that a randomly selected group of citizens, when presented with the facts, can be trusted to come to a conclusion about something as fundamental as a person’s guilt or innocence. It’s a heavy responsibility and potentially full of risk, but it seems to work. Which begs the question, what other systems in society – the machinery of government perhaps – might be enhanced by more direct input from citizens? The Irish Government has a well-developed model for placing the citizen at the heart of its policy making and these ideas are becoming increasingly commonplace in countries around the world. Democratic innovations such as a citizens’ assembly might serve to discomfit some of our ‘elected’ representatives, but isn’t that partly the point?
In the most recent briefing…
If there’s any truth in the adage – we are what we eat - we should worry. According to a study of eating habits in 19 European countries, the UK eats more ‘ultra-processed’ foods than the rest of Europe – over 50% of what we eat isn’t real food at all. And it’s not as if the links with obesity and poor health aren’t understood. In advance of the Good Food Nation Bill being introduced to Scottish Parliament, the whole country is being invited to take part in a Kitchen Table Talk. What kind of food system do we really want?
Sometimes, an idea comes along that falls into the category of the ‘blindingly obvious’. Sometimes the idea isn’t even that new but just needs someone or some organisation to give it a push before it really takes off. Men’s sheds is one of these. Three years ago, no one (in this country) had heard of a men’s shed but now they’re popping up everywhere. 170 at the last count. The multiple health and social benefits that flow from a men’s shed tick every box going. Shedders believe that every community should have one. And the way it’s going…
The devastation inflicted on countless small communities by the Highland Clearances can never be put right but that dark chapter in our history still helps to inform Scottish Government policy going forward – much of the early motivation for land reform was shaped in the shadow of the clearances. The ruined buildings of these communities are the only signs that these remote and empty parts of Scotland were once thriving places in which many people lived. Community Land Scotland have set their sights on bringing new life to these long forgotten communities.
On the radio recently, a spokesperson for BT was defending their abject performance in delivering ‘super-fast’ broadband to the entire country. Much of his argument seemed to be focused on splitting hairs between the merits of ultra-super-fast and just plain old super-fast. Eventually the interviewer ran out of time (and patience) and yet again no satisfactory explanation was provided for the non-delivery of broadband to every household. Some communities realise that it will never happen – unless they do it for themselves. Interesting piece from Harvard University that might give encouragement to communities on this side of the pond.
Outside of the Scottish Government, our sector’s largest funder by a long stretch is the Big Lottery. While the money that it distributes isn’t strictly public finance (although many argue the Lottery is a tax by any other name) there is a close, albeit somewhat opaque, relationship with Scottish Ministers who set some of its strategic direction. And yet it isn’t clear how and where many of its decisions are made. Some recent funding decisions have left communities reeling and now we hear almost 25% of the staff have left the organisation. What’s going on?
Effective working relationships between colleges and universities and our sector have always been poor but since the policy landscape has become so dynamic and fast changing, it’s been surprising how rarely we hear from the academics who design and deliver the course content. You’d think they’d want to make sure that their courses (and students) were bang up to date with what’s happening in the real world. So great news last week of a new partnership being developed between DTAS and a newly established, Scottish University Land Unit.
Whether or not the collapse of Carrillion will serve as a turning point in the current obsession with outsourcing and converting anything and everything into a marketable commodity, is too early to say. At the very least, more people are now debating the wisdom of being wedded to a philosophy that dictates the market will always deliver the best solution or service. It brought to mind a short blog I wrote some years ago about the intrinsic value of sharing things. It included a short anecdote from the brilliant Michael Sandel who’s always worth listening to.
Legislation can be important for reasons way beyond the content of the Act itself – the many consultations, the evidence giving and the welter of media attention that the Bill attracts during the Parliamentary process – all serve to focus attention on a particular area of policy. But that focus is always temporary and the parliamentary circus soon moves on to other matters. Which why it’s important to find other ways to attract attention. In England, the sense of urgency that the Localism Act had briefly stirred up, was thought to be fading. Time for a Commission?