This article best read in conjunction with this previous Gurn article "River CCs plans to take on Nairn’s grass cutting and grounds maintenance dealt a mortal blow?"
After River CC’s Simon Noble delivered the bad news about the grass cutting project at the organisation's regular meeting in the URC last Tuesday night Murd Dunbar made a comment:
“Is this not outside what the Community Council was set up to do. To me it looks as if you want to set up a business, set up a firm. A community council is to help locals not set up a business cutting cemeteries, cutting playing fields and all the rest...”
Simon Noble interjected: “We’ve said that all the way along Murd so I agree with you. You haven’t got an argument there because that is what we said all along.”
Murd repeated: “I think it is outside what the Community Council was set up to do.”
Simon continued his explanation: “Nairn River Enterprise was never intended to be only about grass-cutting which is what you are describing as a business."
Debate then returned to the procurement threshold stumbling block for River CCs Community Challenge Fund bid . A short while later Brian Stewart said:
“Given that the seriousness of that constraint effectively rules out the Challenge Fund as a framework within which to develop your enterprise plans, where does that leave the enterprise project in terms of a business plan? Is it a question of redefining objectives, doing things other than grass cutting or is it a question of looking for other sources of funding for doing the things you were hoping the challenge fund would fund?”
Simon Noble replied: “The connection is only insofar as the Community Challenge Fund was only one of three identified projects that the enterprise would take forward. The Enterprise is to be established with the express purpose of benefiting the community of Nairn River Community Council and with the purpose of developing and regenerating the local area in a way which provides opportunities for employment. I'm paraphrasing he objectives which we have actually published on a number of occasions. So the enterprise is about community development and the Community Challenge Fund project was seen as being a particularly attractive way of providing some backbone for the long term further development of the enterprise but not the be all and end all of the enterprise [...] We started with three projects, one was the Community Challenge Fund, one was riverside regeneration and one was recycling. So this is one of those that looks like it is out of the way but that in some ways that helps us to get a bit more focussed on how we go forward from there.”
A little later Brian Stewart spoke again: “So whether it is a public authority that is delivering something or a private company that is delivering something it is actually quite difficult and complicated. There are lots of rules and conditions and things that have to be complied with and that has set me thinking because I am also a community councillor and it picks up on what Murd said right at the beginning – which is: are we comfortable? Are any of us in any of the community councils comfortable with the notion that we should be acting as sponsors or godfathers or patrons, or god help us, as actual managers of delivering public services.
It was the kind of philosophical point which came up right at the beginning. Is it the right thing for community councillors to do? Is it a good thing for community councils to do? Is it going to work or are we actually (I say we – whichever community council you live in), is going down this road of providing and developing and delivering services as an alternative to the local authority, or as an alternative to a commercial contractor, is this wise, sensible right and desirable?
I’m going to be agnostic on that but I sense from what some other people have said in this room tonight that while not everybody is comfortable with the notion that a community council should be embarking on what Simon has already shown us is difficult, complicated, time-consuming and not a free exercise. It’s nice when some of us like Simon and others put in our time and effort voluntarily but as we have already discovered with the River Enterprise there’s been costs involved, money has been spent. People have had to be paid for their services. So it is not as if this is an academic exercise or an exercise that is somehow theoretical. I just pose the question, is this sort of thing that makes sense as a road that is right to go down?"
Simon returned to the debate. “Well I know, but I think your basic premise is mistaken because Nairn River Community Council is not embarking upon providing a community service [...] The objective is to establish a separate enterprise which delivers on the objectives. Nairn River Community Council’s role in this is in setting a form of strategy to this and establishing, endeavouring to establish, a framework under which community development can take place.”
The debate then moved into the territory of “where the buck stops” as Brian asked further questions. Simon replied that that was something you establish when you set up the enterprise.
More to come in the near future perhaps as the outline framework for “Nairn River Enterprise” arrives at the next meeting of River Community Council?