Whilst fully supporting the general principles of the Bill, the Committee noted for communities to be truly empowered there needs to be a change in the mind set of public authorities. They have to be more open to communities setting the agenda and this must be coupled with support to communities to help them access these new powers.
The Bill aims to provide local communities with the power to participate in local decision making via participation requests. It also sets out powers for communities to take ownership or management of lands from public authorities into community control. Other measures include reform of allotment provision as well as changes to the rules governing Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs).
Committee Convener, Kevin Stewart MSP said:
“During our consideration of the Bill we met with folks in communities across the country who said time and again that they wanted to be more involved in the decisions being made about them.
“There can no doubt this Bill is generally a welcome boost towards putting power in the hands of communities. However, for a Bill which is designed to empower, we were struck by the requirement that only groups with a written constitution could submit a participation request. This seems out of step with the whole ethos of the Bill. In the words of Jeanie Mackenzie – who responded to our video on participation requests, ‘Sometimes an individual has a very good idea for improving public services, but lacks the time or opportunity to find others and form a constituted group.”
Whilst noting the vital role of CPPs, the Committee expressed concern that local communities are not sufficiently involved in the decisions being made and CPPs were too focussed on a ‘top-down’ approach. The report recommends that the Bill should require CPPs to actively seek input directly from the community and not just its representatives.
The Committee also raised concerns about the language used around the proposals which in itself could be seen as a barrier to community involvement.
Kevin Stewart MSP continued:
“During our consideration of the Bill we heard expressions used like ‘third sector interface’ and ‘partnership-framework’ when taking about community involvement. Language like this can act as a barrier for people getting involved. For the Bill to truly empower, public authorities must avoid ‘gobbledygook’ phrases which cannot be easily understood.”
Other recommendations in the report include:
- Provision should be enshrined in the Bill for consultation and engagement with affected communities in relation to the National Outcomes.
- There should be an explicit requirement on all CPPs to include community capacity building in local plans.
- The Bill should stipulate a 6 month maximum time limit for public authorities to conclude contracts for community transfers.
- Whilst agreeing that there should be no defined allotment size, guidance should be produced for local authorities outlining the different needs and good practice.
The policy memorandum of the Bills states that the it is part of the Scottish Government’s commitment “to supporting subsidiarity and local decision-making” by
- Empowering community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings and strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them; and
- Supporting an increase in the pace and scale of Public Service Reform by cementing the focus on achieving outcomes and improving the process of community planning.
Schedule 2 of the Bill provides lists the public service authorities affected by the Bill. This includes local authorities, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Police Scotland. The Committee’s report recommends that other public bodies, such as the Department for Work and Pensions and transport authorities should also be included.
During consideration of Community Empowerment, the Committee visited communities and community groups in Ayr, Dundee, Dumfries, Fort William, Glasgow, Cumbernauld, Aberdeen, Stornoway and Maybole during which it heard about the desire for communities to be more involved in decision making processes which affect them.
More information about the Committee’s consideration of the Bill, as well as a copy of the report can be found here:
The Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee examined part four of the Bill which aims to simplify the right-to-buy process for urban and rural communities living in Scotland. A copy of the Committee’s report can be found here: