When the concept of best value slipped into common parlance, it was as part of a whole new management speak for those in charge of our public finances. The constant search for efficiency savings, and a belief in the intrinsic wisdom of outsourcing anything and everything to the private sector became articles of faith. Intended to ensure the public pound would be cannily managed, this new, efficiency-driven culture instead spawned the outsourcing behemoths – Serco, Carillion (remember them?),G4S et al. Despite a succession of high profile failures to deliver on their promises, their reach has extended into every nook of public service and somehow these outsourcing ‘specialists’ have persisted as the preferred option when it comes to delivering best value. There are however signs that the tide is turning. Amidst a slew of policy announcements suggesting a new found enthusiasm for making the public pound work harder and for longer by investing it directly into our local economies, Scottish Government’s proposal for Community Wealth Building legislation is potentially the most transformative. But make no mistake, achieving best value for the common good requires deep culture change in procurement practices and a radically different approach to local economic growth. Both long overdue.
In the most recent briefing…
Elinor Ostrum, the political economist who died in 2012, once declared, ‘there is no reason to believe that bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how well meaning, are better at solving problems than the people on the spot, who have the strongest incentive to get the solution right’. Her theories applied to the stewardship of natural resources by indigenous peoples which are threatened as never before by the climate and nature emergency. Think tank IPPR have worked with Ostrum’s ideas and argue that a ‘climate commons’ should be acknowledged as the locus of community action on the climate emergency.
The perennial challenge facing those in charge of our public services is how to move ‘upstream’ and start funding the much more cost effective (community based) preventative measures which they know would ease pressures on the more expensive services that are needed at times of crisis. There is a mass of evidence to support the argument and it just keeps coming. Latest addition comes from Glasgow Caledonian’s four year study of Scotland’s Men’s Sheds. The evidence of their impact on men’s health is so compelling that you have to wonder why there isn’t a shed in every community in Scotland.
As facilities gradually reopen and normal services resume, there is a sense of unease in some parts of the country that Covid is being used as a smokescreen for the permanent closure of much needed local services. Plans to close swimming pools and libraries are traditionally the actions that evoke the strongest local reaction and Glasgow’s Whiteinch community are in no mood to lose their library. They believe that the grounds for their legal challenge are well founded and indeed could be used by any other community in Scotland facing a similar threat.
Scotland’s tourism ‘offer’ has probably never experienced so much home-based scrutiny with the whole country seeking some local respite from their locked down existence of the past year. The extent to which communities are actively engaged in tourism is reckoned to be under-researched as a distinct sector but recent work by Senscot suggests it plays a very significant role, particularly in rural areas, as a catalyst for small business development and local area regeneration. Senscot are also currently trialing new approaches to community led tourism in Brechin and Girvan.
In America, the State plays a much less overt role in terms of intervening when the market fails or in attempting to resolve some aspect of social breakdown. Philanthropic giving and the not-for-profit sectors are much more to the fore. It has been suggested that the years of austerity was the British government trying to play catch up. If Scottish Government is serious about its Community Wealth Building ambitions with its focus on investing in small scale local businesses, community cooperatives and social enterprises, it has to think about how to nurture those local economies. Ilana Preuss offers some thoughts.
For lots of reasons, most people don’t consider the debate about how Scotland’s land should be owned and managed is for them. For years, both literally and metaphorically people have been denied access to land and from being part of that crucial discussion about how their land should be used. Scottish Land Commission is committed to reversing that anomaly and its latest initiative, MyLand.scot is intended to begin that process. How we use land is an incredibly sensitive and complex issue as exemplified by the debate about siting a space station on the Melness Crofters Estate at Mhoine.
More than a quarter of the population – mostly residing in west/central belt – live within 500m of a derelict piece of land. That’s land not being put to any productive use, uncared for, often unsightly and causing a blight on the neighbourhood. The owners of these sites show little or no regard for the impact they have on local people and appear to pay little heed to the protocols supporting Scottish Government’s Land Rights and Responsibilities Statement. The recent reprehensible behaviour of a developer towards the community growers of Govanhill is more evidence that tighter controls are required.
The policy landscape is littered with well intended reports, strategies and position papers. But the process that determines how a policy idea is converted into practice is somewhat a mystery. Ideas which carry no obvious political support can suddenly appear in the real world and proposals that have attracted universal, all party support can seem incapable of getting out of the starting blocks. The most stark and longstanding example of the latter has to be the recommendations for public service reform published by the Christie Commission in 2011. An excellent explanation for this ‘implementation inertia’ in Holyrood magazine.
Comrie Development Trust, set up in 2006, is a charitable organisation owned and managed by local people living within the boundary of Comrie and District area – Strathearn. The aim of the Development Trust is to promote the sustainable development of the village for the benefit of local people, groups and businesses. In September 2007, the CDT purchased Cultybraggan – a Prisoner of War & Army Training Camp – encompassing 90 acres of land from the Ministry of Defence, for the benefit of the community. In addition to the buyout, the Trust has also advanced a range of projects include…Find out more