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Community matters

Community matters

Government, at both central and local level, is seeing a step-change in its attitudes to Scotland’s communities. For many years, people have had changes and so-called improvements imposed upon them from external bodies, whether that be the council or the Scottish Government. However, it appears this way of working is slowly starting to change. In 2011, the Christie Commission published its findings into how public services should be delivered in future.

The report stated: “The priorities we identified include recognising that effective services must be designed with and for people and communities – not delivered ‘top down’ for administrative convenience.”

Commission chairman, the late Dr Campbell Christie, added that reforms “must aim to empower individuals and communities” by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use. In response to the Christie recommendations, the Scottish Government pledged that its public service reform agenda would be built on four pillars: a decisive shift towards prevention; a greater focus on place to drive better partnership, collaboration and local delivery; investing in people who deliver services through enhanced workforce development and effective leadership; and a more transparent public service culture which improves standards of performance. It said being in “constant dialogue with Scotland’s people – listening, engaging and responding to their needs and aspirations – is the Government’s way of working”, adding that “transformational change can be successful only with a broad base of popular consent”. The Government also said it would empower local communities and local service providers to work together to develop practical solutions that make best use of all the resources available. “Public services will seek to involve people everywhere in the redesign and reshaping of their activities, and will develop workforce capabilities to deliver that aim,” it said.

Almost three years after the Christie Commission recommendations were published, evidence continues to show the findings are still relevant and change is still required. The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee recently published its report following a year-long inquiry examining best practice and limitations in relation to the delivery of regeneration in Scotland. The committee found years of regeneration policies have delivered few long-lasting outcomes for the most deprived communities and while community was at the heart of much of the focus of regeneration work, in practice, it was difficult for those living and working in those communities to have a real say in what was happening to them.

The report also found that there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to tackling deprivation and inequality, and strategic co-ordination to embed a regeneration vision across Scottish Government policy has not yet been fully established. The committee said taking a strategic overview and leadership needs to be provided to all local authorities and community planning partnerships (CPPs); and councils, if they do not already have them, should have dedicated community officers to support community-led projects. Consideration should also be given to maximising the use of school assets, while the report also found there is a need for further improvement in CPP performance and this can be supported by a stronger legislative framework covering all CPP partners.

Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP told Holyrood a large number of regeneration projects in Scotland have failed because they focused on physical assets rather than people.

He said: “Regeneration for me is about the reduction of poverty, the reduction of inequality and trying to stop decline. All of that is about people. The committee went round the country to hear what folk had to say and some of these areas have had regeneration projects before, like Ferguslie Park, for example, and some have ongoing regeneration works going on. One of the things we have definitely ascertained is where people are involved in projects, they seem to produce better outcomes. The main finding of this inquiry is that where you actually involve people, regeneration seems to work, rather than the old-fashioned scenario, which happened again and again, where people had regeneration done to them; if folk are involved then that regeneration seems to work because of their participation.

“In terms of some of the urban regeneration companies, there is some community representation but from my perspective, probably not enough. In Glasgow, the amount of community participation with Clyde Gateway seems to be very high and it is a URC which is delivering. This is definitely due to the Commonwealth Games, but the people you talk to there felt included, they felt their voices were being heard and their opinions have led some changes in the strategy of what was actually going on in that area. That’s a very good example of where participation of the community can sometimes have a major effect.

“Regarding some of the smaller initiatives, in my own constituency, the Seaton Backies Project has had very little public money but has managed to lever in a huge amount of private cash to transform areas and create nice places to be. People-driven projects, not driven by elected members, not driven by a huge number of boards, they work. In Dundee, where we met with people from across regeneration areas, I’m not saying everything in the garden was rosy but they felt that they had a real say and beyond that, they had a budget for some of the things they wanted to do. That inclusivity really does make a difference. The minister herself [Margaret Burgess] in her evidence talked about people, more than the physical aspects of regeneration and that’s what we need to see, more emphasis on folk, rather than on buildings.

“What the committee has done at this moment of time and the legislative programme itself shows there is a change in emphasis. The committee’s work will feed in extremely well to the Community Empowerment Bill processes. The fact that the Government is looking at empowering people shows their attitude is very different from what has gone previously and that fits in well with the findings of our regeneration inquiry. Empower people and you achieve better outcomes.”

Glasgow Labour MSP Anne McTaggart is a member of the committee, and she believes regeneration and strengthening of our communities is one of the biggest and most important issues facing Scotland today.
She added: “This inquiry had a specific focus on the community angle of regeneration and how regeneration activity is tackling poverty, decline and inequality of opportunity in areas of deprivation. The fact-finding visits were vital to our work as they gave us the opportunity to speak with local people. This was important as the overriding message of our report was that regeneration must involve the people from the communities it is going to affect, in design of activity through to delivery. It was clear to the committee that it would only be effective if it was done ‘by’ people and not ‘to’ them. I am looking forward to the Scottish Government’s response to our report and we will then decide what further work is required. It was a pleasure to contribute to this important report and I would like to thank all those who helped in its success.”

The recommendations chime strongly with what SURF, Scotland’s independent regeneration network, say are its two founding principles: that the intended beneficiaries of a community regeneration process must be meaningfully involved in its conception and implementation; and that regeneration activities must be driven by a holistic and inclusive approach.

SURF committee’s evidence features frequently in the report, including to highlight the following issues: regeneration funding streams being “too complex and inaccessible” for many stakeholders; funding for community-led regeneration failing to meet levels of demand; CPPs not doing enough to tailor mainstream services to disadvantaged communities; calls for a greater use of mental wellbeing measurements in the monitoring and evaluation of regeneration investments; and public procurement policies not being adequately aligned with national objectives around the development of sustainable communities.

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