Graham Kerr of the Westies CC spoke a little about local democracy and the Community Empowerment Bill going through parliament at his organisation’s meeting in Nairn Academy on Tuesday night. He stressed how he supported Nairn’s Highland Council contingent who wished to see Nairn detached from the association with Badenoch and Strathspey that presently exists in the area committe of Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey.
Michael Green then spoke about the model he would like to put forward; namely the “Nairnshire fair share argument”. He said:
“There’s got to be leadership, and it’s got to be councillors and it’s got to be community councillors because between ourselves we are the elected representatives of Nairn. We have got a mandate from the people to take things forward, so it’s up to us to put the shoulder to the wheel and actually do this – because the model for Nairnshire, it’s not just a case of health and social care which we know about: it’s bringing everything, it’s bringing housing, it’s bringing housing, it’s bringing planning, it’s brining economic development, it’s bringing tech services, it’s bringing everything. I’d like to operate it under the fair share model and I spoke about this at the Council and I put this across and the next stage is to take it forward. But the fair share model and if you want to use the health and social care example, you’re never going to reform the Highland Health Board, you’re never going to, it’s never going to change.
So the only thing you can do is to bypass it and the money comes directly to Nairnshire. We then buy in the services that we can’t provide ourselves and we avoid the tiers of management and administration that swallow up vast amounts of money. So if the money came directly to Nairnshire, avoiding the financial black hole of the Highland Health Board, we could provide services, we wouldn’t have the gridlock [...]”
Michael continued and talked about how a similar model was progressing in Perth and Kinross and how Nairnshire also could become a pilot scheme. He talked of channelling effort into creative energy rather than fighting planning battles He said that “prevention is better than cure and we seem to be spending an inordinate amount of time on cure.”
Liz then spoke briefly. She said: “We had a meeting with the policy, the head of corporate policy. It was about the review of the area committee structures and at that point Michael didn’t mention anything about fair share so. When it went to committee and this came up it was a bit of a surprise. It’s a very ambitious suggestion and it is something that we would all aspire to. I’d also think that if we could drive forward the Nairnshire Partnership and get us all working together in a positive cohesive way that would help deliver on what we want in Nairn.”
Liz also added that she thought there weren’t resources for the infrastructure in place just now for what Michael was suggesting. Michael disagreed.
Michael's idea would certainly overturn the tables but it comes at a time when all the elements that make up the Highland Council agree that the present structure doesn't deliver ideal local democracy. Regular readers will know that Colin MacAulay referred to the present council as Regional Government rather than local democracy. It all proves perhaps that it is easier to take something away rather than give it back. Michael's plan seems to this observer as revolutionary in comparison to the deal we get presently - could it find a place in the new radical landscape that is demanding that politics, the machinery of government and local democracy all change for the better? A lot of people have got off their backsides now and want to see things done differently at macro and micro levels. It may be the direction it will all go anyway so at the local level is Michael simply the ahead of the pack? The Gurn decided to find out more about how Michael would envisage his vision being delivered. We spoke to him a couple of days after the Community Councils meeting. He told us:
“There is no point in devolving limited powers or what is on the table just now. The proposal was a partial share of the ward discretionary fund. You can’t work in isolation, which is the real problem. That is the problem for me as an individual and for anyone that is trying to deliver services. For myself, I have to deal with so many different people and I have to drive projects forward across so many...with different departments, it’s almost impossible for an individual to do things. The important part here is, if we get devolved – take for instance planning and housing. All the things I said we would have to get devolved. Well if you’ve got planning, and all this is based on the data, so you have the data, you know what the demographics are. We know that we have a set requirement. If you have your fair share budget we can say ok, we need to build X number of affordable, X number of houses like Corsee over the next ten years. We’ve got a budget to do it let’s do it. “
We mentioned the present planning hierarchy with Highland Planners interpreting Scottish Goverment policy through the likes of the Inner Moray Firth Local Development plan and how it would be possible to break away from that scenario. Michael replied:
“The biggest problem is, they didn’t listen to the locals so you’ve got to change. We’re not going to get new legislation to create new planning guidelines; you have to work within the existing guidelines. The problem is not the legislation; the problem is the interpretation of the legislation. It came down to a crux at Nairn South. They said, the Highland wide, the Inner Moray Firth, all these plans...what was said that we have to represent the views of those that do not consult which are diametrically opposed to those who did. It’s not the legislation it’s the implementation. If you accept the basic premise and I’ll just use housing – planning and economic development and housing, those two and inextricably linked. So we know the requirement, we have to work with planning – that should be the basis from the ground up, not this great Highland wide, Moray Firth and A96 nonsense that is deposited upon us. No! We set the requirement and we use the guidelines and that is accepted as feeding into whatever plans they wish to instruct for the greater Highlands.
If we have the Nairnshire area that addresses planning because on the fair share budget, we will then say OK we’re not just at the beck and call of the developers; we’re not just there on the back foot; we can invest with infrastructure; we could put in roads with the budget. We’re going to say those houses are for self-build, sold off to local individuals to anybody. We’re going to build some affordable housing, really, really good affordable housing...we’re going to do it with a housing trust, we’re going to do it with the Common Good; we’re going to do it through new structures because we can. As it is at the moment the Common Good can’t be in receipt of any form of assistance because it is actually perceived as the Highland Council because it is under the same control.”
More later from the conversation with Michael Green