The Scottish Government has launched its consultation on a proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill with a wide ranging consultation paper. An ‘easy read summary’ is also available.
This is described as an ‘exploratory consultation’. Speaking at the launch, Local Government and Planning Minister Derek McKay said ‘we have kept the options open and the options radical’. The consultation runs until 29 August 2012. There will then be a consultation on a draft Bill in spring 2013 with a view to legislation being ready for introduction to the Scottish Parliament in winter 2013. A Reference Group will be co-chaired by COSLA.
The proposed overall ‘policy aims’ for the Bill are that it “strengthens opportunities for communities to take independent action to achieve their own goals and aspirations and ensure communities are able to have a greater role in determining how their local public services are delivered.”
Most of the press publicity around the consultation so far has centered on issues about the transfer of land and assets to communities (see below). But there are other questions raised about enhancing the role of communities. These questions may have the potential to affect as many or more people and communities. They are in the section on ‘Strengthening Community Participation’. This starts with some questions, ones that are important but in a sense limited in scope, about participation in Community Planning and about the role of Community Councils (the Scottish Government also has a working group looking at the role of community councils).
It then throws in a few bold general ideas, including:
- Should the various existing duties on the public sector to engage communities be replaced with an overarching duty?
- Should there be a duty on the public sector to follow the National Standards for Community Engagement?
- Should there be a duty on the public sector to publish and communicate a community engagement plan?
It then looks at various areas where rights for communities might be created or strengthened: managing social housing, challenging and possibly taking over service provision, and participation in budgeting.
The following section on ‘Unlocking Enterprising Community Development’ contains a wide range of suggestions on possible changes to law on the transfer of and responsibility for land and assets. These range from the sweeping:
- Would you support a community right to buy for urban communities?
(which would presumably affect both private and public sector land sales) to consideration of the laws on Common Good land and allotment gardens. Much of the focus, however, is on the possible transfer of unused or underused public sector assets to communities.
The final section on ‘Renewing our Communities’ adds to this with the suggestion that communities might also or instead have a right to use or manage such public sector assets. The rest of this section is perhaps of less direct relevance to community development, being partly concerned with local authority powers over defective buildings, compulsory purchase etc..
The Christie Commission had recommended that the Bill should also “explore ways to promote action to build community capacity”. The new consultation acknowledges this. However it then refers to the new Strategic Guidance on Community Learning and Development and specifically the fact that “we are considering what can be done through legislation to strengthen the provision of CLD”. The conclusion is “this essentially fulfils the same goal and so this consultation does not ask about community capacity building”. We shall look at these other developments next. (The consultation does however ask “How can the third sector work with Community Planning partners and communities to ensure the participation of communities in the Community Planning process?”)
The CDAS conference on the 28 June will be the major public forum for discussion on the bill during the consultation period. The Scottish Government is keen to hear directly from community groups where possible and also asks agencies and organisations who are responding to pass on additional views from communities whenever possible. The Community Empowerment Unit can be emailed at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/CommEmpower. Discussions on the Bill should use the tag #scotCERB.