I remember when outsourcing became the Government’s new ‘big idea’. The concept was simple and, on the face of it, attractive. Anything that public bodies found too costly or difficult (or both) could simply be ‘outsourced’ to private companies – hey presto, problem solved. And despite mounting evidence to the contrary, this enthusiasm for opening up the public purse ever more widely has continued unabated, spawning the likes of Serco, the outsourcing behemoth with an insatiable appetite for public contracts. The sheer scale of these corporations and the extent to which successive governments seem both addicted to their services and blind to their deficiencies, has become an increasing cause for concern. The human and financial cost of the recent collapse of Carillion should have been reason enough to rethink the wisdom of this wholly transactional approach to public services. It wasn’t. Not least because outsourcing (perhaps too conveniently) discards many of those human values that our public services once enshrined – as witnessed by Serco’s thoroughly ‘hostile’ attitude to Glasgow’s refugee population. That said, the people-powered resistance that Serco has faced on the streets of Glasgow may yet prove a turning-point – when the public began to reclaim their services.
In the most recent briefing…
Thirteen years ago, an epic David and Goliath struggle took place on the Western Isles between the community and a multi-national over plans to create a super-quarry on Harris. Remarkably, and after a long campaign, the company agreed with very good grace to withdraw its plans. Another such struggle – this time over the rights to generate renewable electricity – is brewing. The projected community controlled income - £100 million – would transform life on the islands. Will EDF take a leaf out of the history books and make a dignified exit? Will Western Isles Council back its own community?
The extent to which Scotland’s system of local democracy is uniquely centralised with no other country in Europe having fewer elected members has been well rehearsed. Indeed whenever the issue is raised it’s usually done so in the context of envious comparisons with other countries that have more tiers of government and all of them closer to communities than here. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone is of the view that having more opportunities for democracy to flourish is inherently a good thing. English think tank ResPublica argue strongly that less is better.
Maybe it’s in its nature, but Scotland’s arts scene never seems very far from a crisis. Whether it’s the latest national strategy being metaphorically (and literally) ripped to shreds by the artist community or the main public body – Creative Scotland – being routinely attacked by those that it’s supposed to support. Perhaps these tensions are all just part of the creative process. Writing in The National, George Kerevan runs his eye over the cultural landscape, railing against the pervasive influence of the bankers and financiers and marvelling at the self-driven energy of the ever youthful Edinburgh Fringe.
Tourism has long been a cornerstone of the Scottish economy – generating £6bn in the last year. This year’s good weather and low pound are projected to boost that even further. One of the fastest growing sectors in recent years across the industry worldwide has been adventure tourism, and with Scotland’s coastline, mountains and rivers it comes as no surprise that this growth is being mirrored here. With our more remote rural communities always on the lookout for new ways to generate sustainable income streams, Senscot’s excellent latest briefing on the subject is a welcome addition.
Depending on who you ask, Edinburgh’s Leith Walk is either the finest boulevard in Europe or a ragbag of some of the oddest and quirkiest shops, pubs and cafes you’re ever likely to find. What’s not in doubt is the level of local affection for this street. For some time now Leithers have been dismayed at what they see as increasing levels of inappropriate development. The Save Leith Walk campaign attracts hundreds to its public meetings but to what end? Powerlessness and planning seem to go hand in hand. Time is running out to shape the new Planning Bill.
The idea of the disruptor has been adopted by management consultants as an essential ingredient in the world of business innovation and growth. These are the people that take a ‘left turn,’ uproot current thinking and fundamentally change how we do things in the future. It follows then that our sector needs to foster its own disruptors if we are going to be able to change and adapt to the world around us. Judy Wilkinson, writing for CommonSpace suggests that one source of disruption may lurk in a place where you’d least expect it – down at the allotment.
With more than 400 community land owners across Scotland, there can’t be many people in the land who haven’t at least heard of the community right to buy. But just being aware of the possibilities is one thing, it’s quite another to contemplate the actually doing of it. The early pioneers of this movement did a lot of the ‘heavy lifting’ in terms of wading through the legislation, and making the mistakes that others could learn from. They are now in a position to pass that invaluable experience on. A neatly presented top-tips and myth-buster handout has been produced.
Scientists are clear on the extent that climate change is caused by human activity. And if folk find the science a bit inaccessible, the evidence of this summer must have convinced all but the most die-hard sceptic that something very bad is happening. And economic growth – the one thing every country appears to strive for – is the cause. Shifting course will be technically difficult and politically even harder. But what’s the alternative to a de-growth strategy? The community of Christiania in Copenhagen won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but we need new models.