Community Empowerment: We must give people greater control over their own future
As Holyrood’s conference has highlighted, community empowerment is a key part of our commitment to reducing inequalities and could transform the face of Scotland’s communities.
With the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill reaching Stage 3 in Parliament next week, this is a momentous step in our drive to giving people a stronger voice in the decisions that matter to them.
Since the bill was introduced last June the demand for participation and empowerment has grown.
The referendum took this one step further.
Up and down the country people have become engaged in politics in a way we haven’t previously seen. They recognise the importance of local decision making and how they can make a difference in their area.
Keeping empowerment in the Community Empowerment Bill
Local Government Minister to stand down as MSP in 2016
Groups across the country are already doing remarkable things in their communities and our Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill will help these organisations do even more.
I’ve already seen first-hand the benefits of communities taking over their local shop, renovating derelict sites or providing a hub for community activities. Communities are often the ones best placed to make changes in their area for the better and by regenerating land or property that might have been lying empty in the past, they are transforming them into more attractive place to live.
Importantly the bill will strengthen the voices of communities in the decisions that matter and make sure that our public services are more focused.
While the bill is wide-reaching within its scope there will be a new power for communities to enter into discussions with public authorities about local issues and local services.
Community bodies might use the bill to consider how they could best meet the needs of people in their area or to even take over the delivery of the service themselves.
The bill will make it easier for communities to take control of land and property and will provide a new right for communities to request to own, lease, use or manage land owned by the public sector.
This means the public sector authority must agree to the transfer request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal.
So instead of waiting to be offered something that is considered surplus by the public sector authority, the community will have the right to step forward and to say they could do a better job.
The bill will also extend the community right to buy land to the whole of Scotland, removing the restriction to rural areas. In addition, it will introduce a community right to buy neglected or abandoned land, even if there is no willing seller. This is important as in some cases abandoned or neglected land is a barrier to communities who may be looking to develop or improve facilities.
Next week we have the unique opportunity to ensure that our greatest asset – the people who live and work in Scotland – are better able to make decisions about their future on their terms.
When people have a greater sense of control over their own future they are more engaged and have a sense of ownership, which will make their communities wealthier and fairer.
Following approval in Parliament I look forward to working with communities across Scotland to implement the bill.
Marco Biagi is Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment