Community Empowerment Bill must be more inclusive – Holyrood committee

Written by Kate Shannon on 26 January 2015 in News

Public authorities must change their mind-set to achieve real empowerment

Changes must be made to community empowerment legislation if it is to deliver on its promises, according to a Scottish Parliament committee.

The Scottish Government’s flagship Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill aims to provide people with the power to become involved in local decision making via participation requests.

It also sets out powers for communities to take ownership or management of lands from public authorities.

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

However, in a report published today, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee said while it fully supports the general principles of the Bill, for communities to be truly empowered there needs to be a change in the mind-set of public authorities.

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.’ ”

Other measures in the Bill include reform of allotment provision as well as changes to the rules governing Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs).

While 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 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.

Stewart 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.”

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