As we stated in a recent article Nairn River Community Council’s Nairn River Enterprise off-shoot (a social enterprise venture) has been in the doldrums since a 12.5K ceiling on any Community Challenge bids to take over the grass cutting was thrown at them from Highland Council. Article here. Nairn River Enterprise was allocated £10,000 from the Highland Council’s Deprived Area Fund in October of 2014 and so far they have spent £5,000 in contracting a consultant following their main aim of taking over the grass cutting in their area.
They formed a sub-committee that enjoyed the membership of three of the town’s Highland Councillors (Laurie, Liz and Colin) plus other citizens and initially things went forward in a very positive atmosphere. At the time this observer imagined that with three local members on board, who facilitated a cash injection from the Deprived Area Fund, the River Community Councillors would see Highland Council come to invent a vehicle to transfer the town’s grass cutting back to local control, in a sort of fast-track community empowerment pathfinder mission – an extremely naive reading of the runes given what has or perhaps what hasn't happened since then.
Further details of the current position of Nairn River Enterprise were given in the AGM report. Gurnites can read that from page three of this document here.
At the regular meeting of River CC, immediately following their AGM on Wednesday the 17th of this month there was considerable discussion about the ongoing prospects for Nairn River Enterprise. Also present was Highland Councillor Michael Green and he was highly critical of the Community Council’s becalmed social enterprise set-up. He said:
“I feel reservations about this because it seems to be a sort of scatter-gun approach and it seemed to be focussing on doing the grass cutting cheaper than the Council. Maybe that was the primary objective but that was what seemed to be coming back is that you would provide services cheaper than the Council. [...] I never actually saw the sustainability, I never saw the social benefits of these things. There may be other things about recycling in other areas that you have alluded to but the focus about the money as far as I can see that has been spent on has been exploring the possibility of doing a service cheaper than the Council.[...]
My real concern with this is taking money from the Deprived Area Fund, we know that it is one in four children in Nairn that are in poverty. So that money could have been used...I would have preferably seen it gone to the Citizens Advice. [...] What I would have said, this is the way I would have approached this. If there was a body of work to be done and it is only now that we have employed a consultant we’re finding out this cap of twelve and a half thousand. Now I don’t know with thirty meetings, I don’t know what actually has been generated or what has actually come back out of these thirty odd meetings and everything else that has gone on but if I had been addressing it; if I had been in charge of it, I would have carried out.
There’s a body of work that needs to be done here and I and I would have done that before I went and got consultants in; because I would have done that myself and then I would have given them a specific brief. Having teased out however from the Highland Council to say well this is it, the total revenue available, this is what is achievable if we go down the grass cutting route.
So that’s my concern I think that we engage the consultants that I would take in as an absolute last resort only where you can’t provide the expertise yourself. If you can’t do it yourself and somebody has got specific skills I would get them. Other than that I would do the work as I do with my own projects myself.”
Simon Noble of River CC responded:
“Thank you, well that’s fine, I think that’s your opinion but I think you are misinformed on a number of things. In terms of cheaper, it was never the intention to be cheaper. That smacks of the kind of gossip that went around about us setting out to put Highland Council employees out of work. Neither of those things were ever in any part of our objectives; either as the community council or as things transpired in terms of the project...”
Tommy Hogg, chair of River CC then interjected: “Actually it’s the story that’s still going around Simon.”
Simon continued: “Well it is the story that is being promulgated by comments such as those that Michael has made because we have never, ever said anything about putting people out of work.”
Tommy added: “I know that, you know that.”
Simon again: “Exactly, we know that is not the case and the report spells that out again and each time we have had a community council meeting we have spelt it out. So if people choose to continue to spread that about then they have other interests in their mind rather than listening to what is being said. [...] It’s easy to take shots at consultants and it’s easy to talk about how you would have done things yourself. Michael, you are a comfortably off man, you run your own business, you have time spare to be able to do that. But members of the community council are honest engines who either don’t have the expertise or don’t have the time to do all this work.
When you go to Highland Council and invite them to make an award you don’t actually put their arm up their back and you are very clear, as we were with them, that what we were intending to do with the funding was to employ someone who would do the work that we did not have either the capacity or the expertise to do. That’s what we have done.”
Tommy again: “That was stated at the very first meeting we had, we had got the actual project here to carry it forward and we needed help in getting it set up and running and we were assured that we would get all the help necessary, no problem, and that was one meeting, I think it was January and the last we heard was last month and that’s the first communication we had from them in nearly six months.”
Simon continued: “There are a couple of things you could say about why it has taken Highland Council so long to come up with the answers that they did. One of them might reasonably be that Highland Council is so thinly stretched because they have so few managers able to spend time on work such as this that that is why they never got to the point of informing us but my question would be, if that’s the case: how is a local council going to be able to overcome that difficulty?
The other point being made was about lots of meetings. Well, again it’s a very easy thing to say what’s happened, what’s all this meetings and so on. Michael I’m sure you’ve been to twenty meetings in the last ten days, never mind our consultant together with other members of the community council going to this number...23 odd meetings [...] over a period of nine months. It’s easy to throw these stones but actually they don’t hold water.”
The discussion on this topic continued and River CC decided to hold a workshop as soon as possible to decide their next steps with their problematic social enterprise progeny. They may seek to pursue their other aims of creating local employment through recycling initiatives and "riverside regeneration".