Reform Scotland

Participation Requests and the Community Empowerment Act – Bruce Morrison

I firmly believe from solid experience as a Community Councillor that residents and community bodies can ‘take back control’ even within the current heavily centralised democratic system.  Such activity would be entirely complementary to many of the constructive, longer term, suggestions already made in this debate. Taking back control would not require funding and structure change (a process that inevitably would require years of lobbying effort and planning) but would require changes in attitude and behaviour which, however, could begin today.

Like other contributors here I would be happy to begin with the principle of subsidiarity. It makes perfect sense to me that what we cannot do at resident and community level should be delegated upwards to the next tier of governance. What I do not accept is that we at resident and community level need to wait either to be given resources or be given permission to act.

There is already an enacted power available to community bodies that facilitates this proactive approach. Participation Requests were created in the Community Empowerment Act to enable community bodies to lay before the local authority joint project working where improved outcomes could be envisaged. I would implore local authorities to send out a much stronger message of awareness and support to any community bodies prepared to be proactive.

Like other contributors I also believe that each small community should be encouraged to tackle the issues of local importance and find the solutions that make sense locally. That requires tolerance and enthusiasm by the wider democratic system for innovation, customised solutions and diversification and for the political classes to take head on the inevitable counter argument about postcode lotteries being somehow negative. If our community is doing things differently to our community next door then just imagine what we can learn from each other.

There is no shortage of evidence of the power of communities to achieve. The extraordinary rise and effectiveness of community/development trusts is one example. The community response to the covid lockdown was just another amazing example. Community Councils also have great stories of achievement to tell despite having as their major and primary role the representation of their residents’ views into the democratic system.

In summary, greater devolved power is available right now without major structural change from another top-down process. More extensive devolution will require the reforming efforts of both partners in this change. The first change is for community bodies not to lose heart in the current seemingly unequal struggle for influence and to continue to be proactive dealing with their residents’ most important concerns.  The second, crucially, is a sea change in the attitude, behaviour and culture of our local authorities and central government to positively encourage the creative energy of community bodies and work out what high class partnership looks like in working with those community bodies.

Bruce Morrison is the secretary of Ferintosh Community Council, but writes in a personal capacity.

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