Talking point: power to the people
For the past couple of years, there has been a buzz in local government circles around the Community Empowerment Bill. Following on the Christie Commission’s report in 2011, which so eloquently argued that reforms must aim to empower individuals and communities by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use, this new piece of legislation has been hailed as the answer to a particularly difficult problem.
Details of the Bill were published two weeks ago and speaking at the launch, at The Kabin, a community-owned facility in Loanhead, Midlothian, Local Government Minister Derek Mackay said: “This Bill is about enabling people and communities throughout Scotland to make their own decisions and to build their own future.
“Reforming the community right to buy, giving urban communities in Scotland the same rights as rural communities, and creating access to public land and buildings is a momentous step forward.
“This legislation will empower communities who wish to take over public land and buildings where they think they can make better use of them than their current public-sector owners and ensure their ambitions are supported by public bodies. The Kabin is an excellent example of what can be achieved with the right support.
“This Government believes firmly in subsidiarity and local decision making, and just as independence can ensure decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, the people who live and work here, so community empowerment can extend that opportunity to every community in Scotland.”
The Bill will simplify rules on Scotland’s local authority allotment sites, strengthening the duty on councils to provide sites triggered by actual demand. It will also protect allotment sites from closure.
This all sounds very impressive on paper – the idea of local communities taking control of a facility or piece of ground is very positive but how that will work in reality is another story.
Some communities already have a strong network of people who work actively within their neighbourhoods but what about those who don’t? Every day we hear stories about people feeling disconnected from the democratic process, until we combat this, I’m not sure how effective legislation will be. I’m confident the Community Empowerment Bill is a step in the right direction but as always with new laws, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
Since last time...enjoyed a sun-drenched hike around St Abb’s Head... waged war on a mouse which has moved, uninvited, into my flat... started my holiday countdown