Saturday, July 02, 2011

New Highland Community Council funding scheme “a disaster for the more rural, fragile, peripheral communities”?

Recently the Highland Council published the new funding figures for the Highland area’s 156 Community Councils, here’s how the local councils fared with the redistribution of the annual budget for these local watchdog organisations.

Auldearn: up £12.28 (from £1110.72 to £1123.00)

Cawdor and West Nairnshire: up £170.95 (from £1110.72 to £1281.68)

East Nairnshire: down £42.10 (from £1110.72 to £1068.62)

Nairn Suburban: up £848.78 (from £1110.72 to £1959.50)

Nairn West: up £53.10 (from £1110.72 to £1163.82)

Nairn River: up £1477.03 (from £1110.72 to £2587.75)

There’s no new money in total just a re-gig of the hand-outs. The Council states:

“The total amount of grants to be distributed remains at £207,413 but the future share out will remove large variations in payments across the Highlands and align payments with actual running costs of Community Councils.”

Locally everyone seems to be doing better apart from East Nairnshire but when you compare the starting cost of your average Highland Councillor at £15,000 you can see how paltry this funding is. One regular Gurnite who has a passing interest in local CC affairs is thinking a bit beyond the parochial gains however, and told the Gurn:

“We can see what the new formulae would deliver for Nairn's three CCs. But the really serious issue is illustrated in the comments in the webcast of the Council debate (at which incidentally no Nairn councillor spoke). In a nutshell, the new scheme, because it allocates money essentially on the basis of population/electorate, gives big money to the densely-populated geographically-small areas (like Nairn River, the biggest winner of all, and some of the Inverness suburbs) and cuts savagely (up to 30%) the remoter, thinly-populated, and rural parishes from Badenoch and Strathspey to the Western Highlands and the Isles.

Forget Nairn for a moment. This is a disaster for the more rural, fragile, peripheral communities where CCs play a much more crucial role than they do in the urban centres, and where the actual costs (travel etc) even of holding meetings are much higher. Individually and collectively, these areas get much less money while the urban areas get more.”

Our correspondent continued: “ I suppose we could say 'it's not our problem'. Nairn as such doesn't come out of it badly. But once again the Council officials have come up with a crude, simplistic, unimaginative blunt instrument of a funding formula which - because it is population based - has the effect of weakening regional communities and strengthening the centralisation of political and social activity. And, even when the shortcomings of this were pointed out at the Council meeting by reps from the rural areas (who argued for a rethink and fuller consultation), the Council heavy-hitters, almost all Inverness-based, voted such a deferral down and forced through a decision based on the proposal as tabled. Another example of the Inverness-centric mentality working to the detriment of the rest of the region? Or maybe just a lack of imagination or willingness to explore what one Councillor called for: a more nuanced formula which gives more weight, in the allocation of money, to the need to support the more "fragile" and rural communities.”

To this observer the cash based on population figures just demonstrates how imbalanced and foolish it is to have three community councils in Nairn, with River being far bigger and more powerful than the other two councils. It’s crazy, we should have a single Community Council but the Highland powers that be refused to listen to public opinion and representations from Nairn. In the meantime we will have the Community Council Forum however, which will meet for the first time on Monday the 11th of July, details and agenda to be announced soon. Meanwhile how will this cash disparity actually affect the situation on the ground in Nairn? Again our correspondent has a view:

“I do worry that the massive disparities in budgetary allocations within this small town and community have the potential to sow dissension and discontent. At least until now each CC, and the various parts of the town have been on a level playing field, and the CC money has been essentially for running-costs plus the odd leaflet exercise. Now it is a different ball-game, because the new funding regime implies that (some) CCs will be expected to develop and implement community projects. That's why they get the "per capita" allocation based on population numbers.”

We’ll see what happens but this observer would suggest that it might be worth attending the first combined meeting of River, Suburban and West on the 11th. An historic occasion if nothing else, where we may just get some co-ordinated thinking and action on some of the problems facing us.

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