Plans won’t empower communities says MSPs

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MSPs have said plans to give people more power over their community services need to change 

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26th January 2015 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

Public bodies will have to let go of more power over local areas if new plans to give ordinary citizens control over their neighbourhoods are to succeed.

A committee of MSPs has said the Scottish Government’s upcoming community empowerment bill will not deliver on its promises without alterations.

A report into the bill from the local government and regeneration committee states there needs to be a change of mind set amongst public authorities.

Community Planning Partnerships, which are made up of local authorities, health boards and other public partners such as the police, fire, regional transport bodies and enterprise networks, have a top down approach to developing communities the report says.

They will have to be more open to communities themselves setting the agenda and this must be coupled with support to communities to help them access these new powers.

We met with folks in communities across the country who said time and again that they wanted to be more involved in the decisions being made about them - Kevin Stewart

The bill aims to provide local communities with the power to participate in local decision making via participation requests.

It also sets out powers for communities to take ownership or management of lands from public authorities into community control.

Other measures include reform of allotment provision as well as changes to the rules governing Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs).

Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP said: “During our consideration of the bill we met with folks in communities across the country who said time and again that they wanted to be more involved in the decisions being made about them.

“There can no doubt this bill is generally a welcome boost towards putting power in the hands of communities. However, for a bill which is designed to empower, we were struck by the requirement that only groups with a written constitution could submit a participation request. This seems out of step with the whole ethos of the Bill. In the words of Jeanie Mackenzie – who responded to our video on participation requests, ‘Sometimes an individual has a very good idea for improving public services, but lacks the time or opportunity to find others and form a constituted group.’ ”

The committee also criticised the excessive use of “gobbledygook” language in community planning, highlighting third sector interface as an example.

Oxfam Scotland welcomed the committee's recognition that the bill needs further amendments.

Francis Stuart, research and policy adviser at Oxfam Scotland said: "While Oxfam is supportive of much of the Bill, we are concerned that the legislation currently risks being accessible only to well-resourced communities with capacity to navigate the processes contained in the Bill. This would accentuate rather than reduce inequalities.

"Along with other third sector organisations, we will be continuing to work to strengthen the bill, promoting practices like participatory budgeting that reach out to the most disadvantaged communities, to ensure this legislation genuinely empowers every community in Scotland."

The committee report recommends that the bill should require CPPs to actively seek input directly from the community and not just its representatives

It also calls for provision to be enshrined in the bill for consultation and engagement with affected communities in relation to the national outcomes and an explicit requirement on all CPPs to include community capacity building in local plans.

The bill should also stipulate a six month maximum time limit for public authorities to conclude contracts for community transfers. Whilst agreeing that there should be no defined allotment size, the report also said guidance should be produced for local authorities outlining the different needs and good