Thursday, November 21, 2013

Localism and Community Empowerment for Nairn – could we be in for a disappointment?

Much is made by some of the “Usual Suspects” (our local Community Councillors for those not familiar with Gurn terminology) about the direction of Scottish Government travel with the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill that is going through the Holyrood machine at the moment. They feel that this is the direction of travel and they wish Nairn to be in the vanguard as powers are returned to communities after over two decades, locally anyway, of movement in the other direction. The same thinking permeates the organisation Nairn Improvement Community Enterprise (NICE). Could anyone hoping for a quick transformation in the short term be bitterly disappointed however? The stated aims of the Bill are very laudable and will resonate deeply with many Nairnshire residents aggrieved with the status quo. So it is to the Community Empowerment Bill and the concept of localism it could potentially deliver that those fighting for a better deal for Nairn look to with more than just a glimmer of hope. 
To get a flavour of the stated aims of the Community Empowerment Bill some Gurnites may wish to read this Scottish Government web page. 

One of our usual suspects recommended the Scottish Community Alliance newsletter to this observer some time ago. You just have to sign up on line for the monthly e-mail. It contains much usual information about how some communities have set out to deal with problems facing them – thinking and acting locally to create new positive outcomes for themselves. The SCA is quite a formidable network of grass routes organisations and you can read about them here – “Local people leading” is one of their slogans. 

Thus It was with some disappointment that this observer read the latest missive from  the SCA, it seems very downbeat about the prospects for significant progress for communities from the Bill. It says: 

 “A well-worn philosophy from the world of business says that the way to manage expectations is to under-promise and over-deliver.  An early assessment of the draft Community Empowerment Bill suggests that Scottish Government holds no truck with such Machiavellian ways – in fact quite the reverse.  Initial reaction to the proposals has been underwhelming. Even the Minister responsible, Derek Mackay MSP, in his Q&A session at last week’s Senscot conference, suggested we might have expected more from the Bill. So why promise so much at the outset and deliver so little? It’s such a marked contrast that you almost wonder whether some reverse psychology is at work – massively over-promise (to stir up debate) but deliver just enough (and no more) to whet the appetite for more in the future. We always knew the idea of communities being on the receiving end of ‘the largest transfer of power since devolution’ would meet with fierce opposition– particularly from those who hold so much sway over what communities currently do.  So is this Bill simply intended as a minor staging post in a much longer journey that the Scottish Government wants us to travel?   Now that would be truly Machiavellian.”

There will be many that will be hoping that the SCA are more than a little off-beam with this analysis. Gurnites interested in what the SCA has to say can find their website here.  Serious students may wish to also browse their archive of briefings. 


Anonymous said...

Westminster destroyed proper Local Government in Scotland.
Firstly, in the 1970s, a Westminster Labour-led Commission reviewed the old system of 33 county councils, 4 city corporations, 21 large burghs, 176 small burghs and 196 district councils. The Wheatley Commission’s proposals were then tinkered with and enacted by the Westminster Tories – who created 9 Regions, 3 Island Authorities and 53 Districts.
So from some 400 local “councils” across Scotland with geographic, historical, cultural and real civic identity, Westminster created “monster” Regions like Strathclyde and emasculated the vast majority of local community-controlled councils.
Then in the 1990s, guess what?
Well, Westminster meddled more with Scotland leaving us with the 3 Island Authorities and 29 “Areas” – like Highland – with an area the size of Wales.
Scotland needs for the first time since 1707 a local government structure made in Scotland and made for Scotland’s people – without any Westminster influence whatsoever. An early task for an independent country to tackle!

people power said...

Colin not-so-Anonymous is of course entitled to his views on who is responsible for the current dire state of local government in Scotland. But it is a bit simplistic to lay the blame entirely at the door of Westminster. While the Scottish Government is to be commended for at least launching proposals to empower local communities, it would be naive to expect the current Bill to deliver anything like the changes it promises.

The SCA has got it right: "We always knew the idea of communities being on the receiving end of ‘the largest transfer of power since devolution’ would meet with fierce opposition – particularly from those who hold so much sway over what communities currently do.".

Where is this opposition to empowering communities most strongly entrenched? For a clue, Nairn residents need look no further than the Highland Council's own proposed response to the initial round of consultation on the Bill (report CPE 10/12 of 12 Sep 2012). It runs to some 36 pages. But the clear message can be summed up in four words: "over our dead bodies"!

Elected Councillors took the view that the draft produced by officials was "insufficiently positive" (shucks!) and asked for it to be revised. The final version is little different, and the Highland Council view remains, in essence, "Nice ideas in principle, we are already engaging with communities as far as we consider appropriate, and in practice we're not keen on much further devolution of power."

So those who are looking to a brave new world of local democracy (whatever the outcome of the independence referendum) may be in for a disappointment. A government in Holyrood of an independent Scotland - if it ever comes to pass - would face exactly the same resistance.

The present unsatisfactory situation will persist until local government is freed from the straitjacket of party-politics. Local decisions ought to be made not by party apparatchiks and unelected officals but by community representatives who have no other agenda except loyalty to the community they serve.

Graisg said...

Click here to see the document that "People Power" refers to.