Strengthening local democracy
While others are debating the pros and cons of independence, we at the LHNCC have some questions about how effectively you think local issues are dealt with:
- Do you think that decisions about local issues and services are local enough?
- How important is it for locally elected people to be responsible for local services?
- How do local priorities fit in with how national and local government works at the moment?
- Has there been enough discussion about local democracy in the debate about Scotland’s future? Do you have any concerns about strengthening local democracy
- What do you think should be done to strengthen local democratic decision making?
According to COSLA (the convention of Scottish Local Authorities) ‘experience has shown that doing it locally is the only truly effective way of getting things done’. They go on to say ‘In fact, issues of local democracy are at the heart of the broader debate about the type of country we want to live in, the balance we strike between citizen, community and government, and how we manage local diversity, choice and variation. The debate should start with how to improve lives in local communities, not simply about replacing one national government with another.’
COSLA have the following goals:
- Investigate a local approach to services and accountability that will improve outcomes in Scotland’s communities
- Consider the current landscape of democracy in Scotland and how this could be strengthened and enriched to benefit local people most
- Make recommendations that set a course for putting stronger local democracy at the heart of Scotland’s constitutional future
Community Empowerment Bill
This is a follow up to http://leithcentralcc.co.uk/2013/11/10/community-empowerment-scotland-bill, trying to understand the some of the draft bill. The government says Community empowerment is about communities taking their own decisions about their futures. The big example is right to buy legislation – the target of is one million acres in community land ownership by 2020 is mentioned in the introduction. The big news for Community Councils is [The bill] will provide Scotland’s community councils with a new statutory role in relation to the common good, recognising their important role as voices for local communities.
Community right to buy
The right to buy established in 2003 for small rural areas is to be extended to all of Scotland.
Public service delivery
The aim is to include community organisations, specifically including community councils, in identifying and even helping to deliver services.
- Firstly, the draft law says who can take part: community councils and other bodies aiming at public benefit.
- Then it defines ‘public service authority’ (see below) – and says how the Government may change this definition.
- Next it says that one or more community body may make a request to a public service authority to permit the body to participate in an outcome improvement process, so long as it specifies an achievable outcome and shows how it can help.
- Then there are parts about how the Government may specify how requests are made.
- Next there are parts about how decisions should be made and published. In particular The authority must agree to the request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusing it.
- Next there are parts about how community bodies would fit into outcome improvement processes.
- Finally there is material on how completed outcome improvement processes should be reported.
So there you have it – a gallop through 5 pages of legislation. The point is that community organisations – especially community councils will be able to get involved with making things work better. Sensible, informed, workable requests cannot be turned down!
Common good registers
Part 3 of the draft bill is about the common good – assets worth £219 million over Scotland. Local authorities will be tasked with creating registers of common good assets in their areas.
- Firstly they will have to draft lists of properties they believe should be on those registers.
- Next they have to ask community organisations – specifically including community councils – to help ensure the registers are correct.
- When the registers have been created, if a local authority wishes to dispose or change the use of a common good property, it must inform community bodies – again specifically including community councils and ‘have regard’ to anything they say.
Currently this is all up for consultation. In this consultation, there are specific questions and plenty of opportunities for other comment. You don’t have to comment on everything, of course.
*Currently college management boards, health boards, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, local authorities, National Park authorities, the Police Service of Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Scottish Natural Heritage