Dialogue story posted: 27/01/2016
Dialogue story posted: 27/01/2016
Community Councils and Councillors were not all 100% happy with the Community Empowerment Scotland Act: “Nothing about community councils”; “did not address the issues raised through the review process”; “does not move us on”.
My response would be that though there is nothing about community councils, there is plenty in the legislation for community councils. True, it does not address all the issues raised through the review, but it gives community councils the levers to sort things for themselves. It would be a very odd sort of community governance that required national government to sort local issues. I think the Act moves things on a great deal.
All public authorities and bodies in Scotland, including Government, now have a shared duty to work together to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities between communities. They also now have a duty to enable and resource community participation in decision making about the funding, design and delivery of public services, including the right of communities to seek a transfer of assets and services to community management. If this is not seen to create space and opportunity for ambitious and dynamic community councils, I don’t know what would.
For example, communities have the right to make a “participation request” if they feel local services are not satisfactory or not well enough attuned to community need, and they have ideas about how the situation can be improved. This will require leadership, coordination and support. Who better to lead this than the community council that serves the local area? A review of what goes well, what goes badly, and how it can be improved driven by the community itself and led and coordinated by the community council.
Would a community council have the resources to do this? The Act creates opportunities here as well. Given all public authorities have a duty to support and resource community participation, community councils could offer to lead and coordinate this on behalf of public authorities and be given the resources to do so. Their involvement would provide independent support for community participation and potentially give it more edge. Resource support might as usefully be attached or seconded community learning and development workers as financial support. Community councils could themselves put in a “participation request” for this purpose.
Another interesting area of the Act is new possibilities for transfer of publicly owned assets to communities. Community asset transfer can be sought for any land or property held by any public authority if the community can identify ways in which it can be better exploited to improve local outcomes. It includes full transfer of ownership but also lease arrangements and the right to use and manage land or property. A significant amount of external support is available (e.g. Development Trust Associations or the Big Lottery) but, at the heart of this, is community leadership and mobilisation. Again, who better to do this than the community council?
I absolutely get that the Act was not everything everyone wanted (no Act ever is) and we could spend the next period complaining about that. “Frankly, my dears, no one will give a damn.” The better route is to see that the Act opens up major new space for community councils and to get very active in exploiting that on behalf of the communities you serve.
Why not participate in a discussion around the topics raised in Colin's post? You can share your views in the Knowledge Hub group* 'Scottish Community Councillors Development Network'.
* Please note if you are not already a member of this group, you will be asked to register.
Colin Mair is Chief Executive at the Improvement Service