Wednesday, May 13, 2015

First gentle steps in seeing some democracy being returned to Nairn?

A theme running through civic life for many years in Nairn is the democratic deficit that the community suffers after years of centralisation in the direction of Inverness. It makes sense to many that this community has more of a say in its own future. The present situation has lead to much dissatisfaction being expressed to the authorities from the community councils and others even to the extent of citizens taking to the streets to protest about planning decisions implemented on the town. It may be too that the new radicalism abroad in Scotland that enabled the SNP to be the lightening rod for what Michael Forsyth has called a political revolution will also create further ripples locally with more demand for increased self-determination in community affairs. People want more say at all levels of politics now and surely change has to come in Nairn. 

Let’s consider the situation we have presently. Colin MacAulay said recently in debate in the comments section of one of our articles:

“Sadly, we do not have "local" government - the Tories and Labour Governments at Westminster in the 70s and 90s took that away from almost all of Scotland. We have sub-national government - a geography the size of Wales or Belgium.”

Nairn’s situation found itself reflected in the General Election hustings at the Golf View when Nairn Academy Pupil, Finlay Almond asked: “With the Centralisation of Scottish services in Edinburgh and British services in London – how can we trust that Nairn’s voice will be heard on a national scale?” All the seven candidates responded of course but let us consider what our new MP, Drew Hendry, had to say:

"First of all Nairn’s voice is very important. I can tell you I know all about the Big Slide and I know all about the Traffic Lights. So Nairn’s voice does get out there very well. I was part of the commission for strengthening local democracy and as a signatory a co-author to that. That was about how we actually make sure that communities like Nairn can actually participate in their own development, in their own ability to make decisions. It’s not about the gift to communities, it’s about the community itself being able to take control of its own assets and its own decision making and part of that journey is about realising how we transfer powers. Within the Highland Council I’m very pleased that we have reversed the previous situation where area committees were disbanded and actually reinstate area committees so that Nairn could have a local political voice there as well. 

There are two pieces of legislation going throw the Scottish Parliament that I very briefly will tell you about - at the moment the Land Reform Bill and the Community Empowerment Act. These are actual pieces of legislation, for the first time we are legislating to return power to communities across Scotland so that is work in progress just now. But I won’t take any lessons from Danny on centralisation when one of the issues that could have solved the ability for us to actually take more control of issues here is devolution of the Crown Estate. Something that all parties and none across the Highlands and in this constituency have agreed that we should have, yet there has been no movement there and it has been watered down through the Smith Commission to the point where it is almost worthless and it looks to be watered down even further and that is something that could be delivered very, very quickly indeed. So it is important that Nairn’s voice is heard and it is important that Nairn’s voice is heard.”

So what next, are we really on the way to a better deal or will any real attempt at giving back some power to Nairn find itself side tracked as it makes its way through officialdom towards the community? Tomorrow at Glenurquhart Road the Highland Council will discuss a document entitled: “ Up-date on the Review of Area Committees and Local Community Planning Arrangements”. Obviously the forthcoming Community Empowerment Act is focussing their minds.   Here’s a paragraph relevant to our community from the document going to the Council meeting:

Feedback from the conversation with Nairn Members 

Members felt that for Nairn to be a shining example of local democracy, they needed to make sure that: 

• They get positive relationships with the community; 

• Public agencies work together with the community; 

• They lead on projects and push on ideas and strategies – linked to priorities; 

• They scrutinise the process for all public services; 

• They make decisions for things they are elected for; 

• They facilitate the community to deliver for the town; 

• They address inequalities and include the harder to reach communities; and 

• They build trust with community groups. "

And the document goes on to outline some mechanisms the local members would like to see implemented. The first steps on the road to getting real power back to Nairn? The meeting will be webcast should any Gurnites have some spare time tomorrow, this item is well down the agenda though so it may be discussed in the afternoon. More below

To achieve this vision, Members propose:

1. Taking forward participatory budgeting in 2015/16 so that people in Nairn decide how 50% of their ward discretionary budget is spent. The plan is to run a community event in early Autumn 2015 to distribute the funding. Members were open to identifying other potential discretionary funding to be distributed in this way in the future, possibly including the Nairn Common Good Fund. Lessons from the first event will be identified for any future roll out.

2. To no longer have the Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee, District Partnership and Locality Planning meetings. Instead the governance model proposed would be a local community planning partnership model. Potentially branded as the Nairn Community Partnership it would cover the issues of local importance (i.e. health and social care, transport, economy, town centre regeneration, community safety and possibly arts and culture) along with any other Council business. Meetings of the Nairn Community Partnership would be themed to make workload manageable and to encourage community interest and involvement. Ideally the resource for running the partnership would be shared across the partnership.

In developing this model, Council business would have to be dealt with appropriately with the right governance arrangements in place. This would include being clear on the respective roles of members and of partners during partnership meetings, making sure e.g. that Members know when they alone are responsible for making decisions.

Following the workshop Cllr MacDonald shared the idea of the new model with some of those involved in locality planning and has received positive feedback so far. Conversations are underway with NHSH regarding the potential changes to the District Partnership."

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