Thursday, May 14, 2015

Local democracy "the revolution, the real game changer" is in Nairnshire?

Yesterday we reported on a few proposals going forward to be discussed today in the Highland Council chamber. A few crumbs of democracy perhaps to be devolved down to Nairn from the area committee that includes us and Badenoch and Strathspey. The article and details of the proposals here. It was all duly discussed and here is what our local members had to say. 

Liz was the first Councillor from Nairn to speak:

“We also are very keen to take on the participating budgeting and we also considered rather into the future that we extend to the Common Good monies in Nairn. I think we all accept that the boundary we have for our area committee was artificial and that we have got a very distinct area in Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey has also got three distinct communities within its boundaries. So I think we appear to be choosing to go our separate ways focussing on community planning, community partnerships and involving the participation of our communities and other groups that are already working there, for example the District Partnership. So I think if we all go our separate ways I’d just like to say it’s not you it was me.”

Michael was the next Nairnshire councillor to speak:

“That we have started down the road to change is to be welcomed and the merging of the District Partnership with the Nairn component of the area committee is a small step in the right direction. However, if the role of the proposed new Nairn community partnership, as outlined on page 83 (3.3.32) is merely to cover issues of local importance and to encourage community interest and involvement, then this is not an agenda for meaningful reform and we really are missing the point of community empowerment and strengthening local democracy. 

Is the scale of our ambition for local communities is a half share of the ward discretionary fund? Is the end point of our vision a talking shop lacking a remit and fiscal autonomy? No, because the new structures we can create should be able to deliver genuine local autonomy and empowerment. They have to contain at their core two vital components. Firstly, individual communities as represented by their elected councillors, and you are going to love this folks and it’s true because we have very active community councillors in Nairn. Elected community councillors need to be given a clear defined role and a role where they are in control of the administration, commissioning and delivery of local services. Secondly, just as the SNP want full fiscal autonomy from Westminster, then any new structure will have to have control of the entire locality budget. 

So what’s the vision? What’s the plan? As Councillor Kerr said: “we’ve talked about this long enough we need action”. Well a Nairnshire area with complete control of our Health and Social care, housing, education, planning, economic development and roads and transport; i.e. all services. A Nairnshire area with a devolved fair share budget that will deliver services tailored to the needs of our local community. Could you imagine a devolved fair share health budget bypassing the fiscal hopper of the Highland Health Board? Could you imagine the improved outcomes from a health budget delivering cost effective care tailored to meet local needs and priorities? Imagine a budget that would enable health professionals to deliver that holy grail of health care – early intervention. 

So is the commissioning of services from a locally devolved and controlled budget merely a pipe dream? No the fair share principle for all localities is happening in Perth and Kinross with remarkable results. Therefore, drawing inspiration from best practice models elsewhere in Scotland and utilising our own local talent and resources we have been given a remarkable opportunity to radically improve the quality of services we provide to our communities. And finally, as the great and the good from across Scotland depart from Westminster to be followed by the brightest and best to Holyrood next year; I can’t help but think the revolution, the real game changer, in community empowerment, local democracy and service provision is happening not in London, not in Edinburgh, maybe not even in Inverness but it certainly is in Nairnshire.”
Michael Green (bathed in the light of a revolution in local democracy?) speaking in the Glenurquhart Road chamber earlier today - Thursday 14/05/15
Liz responded to Michael’s statement:

“We started up the area committees as a first step to delivering more local democracy in Highland and I think we are all sort of coming to the idea that the shape it is in is not fitting what is required. Michael’s statement there was very ambitious. It would be an aspiration to try and deliver but at the same time, the costs involved in doing it and the administration and the bureaucracy I think would need to be worked out in detail. I think for just now if we can get along and get our community partnerships working together well in the local area. I think one thing we have done with the area committees is through listening to HIE and the Cairngorm Partnership and different agencies that are available, building relationships and getting to know them better and understanding what they do because when the area committees stopped in 2007 a lot of that links were lost and we’ve started to rebuild them. I think perhaps that Michael’s suggestion is a step too far at the moment. I think we need to work towards delivering more local involvement and engagement in a positive way. I can understand the fair share concept. It’s something we hear a lot about in Nairn but the other side to that is that if Nairn is going to be getting more other areas are going to be getting less and its going to take a lot of consultation and agreement across the chamber to deliver that.”

Laurie spoke a little later:

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The reality is area committees of four people can only do a limited amount of business and I can’t see you getting budgets down to that sort of level. You can certainly scrutinise at that level but one of the big problems I’ve seen so far is that you bring reports to these area committees and you bring a senior manager. A senior manager cannot answer the detailed questions that we want to ask. I don’t know how you are going to sort it because it seems we’ve only got senior managers left nowadays, no sort of junior in-between ones."

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