It wasn’t all Christmas sing-a-longs and cuts at Glenurquhart Road yesterday as the full Highland Council met. One of the other items that went through (at breakneck speed if you watch the webcast) was the approval of the Community Challenge Fund Applications Panel’s minutes. Gurnites will be aware that Nairn River Community Council hope to set up a Social Enterprise company that would take over their patch’s grass cutting responsibilities with funding from the Community challenge Fund. Last week Chair of River CC Tommy Hogg was not upbeat about the continuing process and dismayed with Highland Council. He said: “It’s getting bogged down, the same thing happened the last time when the original application went in about this time last year. It just seems to hit a brick wall and everything stops." More here.
Well the minutes of the Community Challenge Fund panel that were approved yesterday stated: “Nairn River Community Council – this project met the criteria; an Application should be requested once officers were satisfied that a number of outstanding matters had been resolved, including in relation to the potential transfer of staff from the Council.”
It looks like, therefore, that River CC would perhaps be taking on Highland Council staff. That would be no small affair. Instantly the inquisitive mind would be wondering how a small enterprise company would cover for sickness, holiday, ongoing pension contributions etc, etc. There would need to be a small bureaucracy put in place too or an external agency employed to manage these responsibilities. Could all that be done cheaper than it is at present through the Highland Council apparatus? Funding would come through the Community Challenge Fund and River CC might be able to find other funding streams but how sustainable would they be? And how sustainable is the Challenge Fund? Could the Council be forced to cut it in the face of the ongoing cuts apocalypse facing the public sector?
Last month Simon Noble of River CC told the organisations regular meeting that the social enterprise plan would make no threat to local council jobs “but create opportunities for training and routes to employment for people who may be long-term unemployed at the moment.”
Another River CC member, Mike Henderson wanted to know more about who would be employed by the company. Simon replied:
“It will depend on what we can develop as a larger business plan and what we can get funding for. It’s difficult to predict. It’s likely to be a mixture of potentially somebody to run the enterprise on behalf of a board and then supplement it by jobs, some of which may be self-employed people rather than employing them.” He went on to say that any council workers transferred over would be covered by the rules of TUPE.
Mike Henderson persisted making his point however and claimed that the issue was creating potential uncertainty for existing Council employees.
It does seem to this observer that if the community is to take charge of its own grass-cutting affairs it looks like it has to set up its own bureaucracy and go out and look for funding. Already a consultant has been employed by River Community Council. Would it not be much easier and cheaper all round to simply give real control of the grass cutting budgets etc to the Area Committee and invite the community councils to sit at the top table when decisions are made? Either that or stop messing about and give Nairn its District Council back. Should River CC succeed on proceeding down what seems an increasingly tortuous route, will there be any saving to the public purse by the time consultants and others with the necessary skills are recruited?