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14th August 2019

There was a time when public budgets weren’t always so cash-strapped. In fact, while few would admit it, there was once a time of relative plenty when it seemed that whizzy, new ideas were being funded just because they were whizzy and new. One such was a ‘transformation’ programme which claimed it could unlock the potential of our public institutions and communities alike.  Awash with West Coast American positivity and optimism, for a while its flame burned brightly, particularly in the schools where I worked.  But for whatever reason, that flame eventually fizzled out - perhaps too American, perhaps too costly. Nonetheless its relentless focus on positive thinking seemed to make a real difference. That long forgotten dalliance with positivity came to mind recently when reading about the death of France’s most popular philosopher, Michel Serres. Renowned for going against the grain of popular opinion, Serres had no truck with the gloom and doomsters that seem utterly defeated by the rise of populist politics.  He was a purveyor of hope and had complete faith in the younger generation to resolve this mess.  Perhaps there should always be a place for such blind optimism. For want of alternatives, I’m with Serres.

In the most recent briefing…

On the ground

  • Community work - what's that?

    Years from now we may find ourselves wistfully reminiscing about this era of community empowerment - ruing the fact that we let these opportunities to invest communities with real power and resources slip away from us. And if we find ourselves doing that, one of the reasons will be that we were focused too much on the policies, strategies and legislation, and too little on the question of who was doing the work in communities and what that work should consist of. It’s a debate we need to have. Noel Mathias of WEvolution provides a starter for ten.

  • Café culture

    If someone was to write the definitive (albeit theoretical) guide to building a community from scratch, Chapter 1 might contain a list of the fundamental building blocks that need to be put in place if a community is to flourish. That list might be long and no doubt there would be some debate as to its content, but few would argue that every community needs its own  meeting place and café. Senscot plans to publish a briefing on what it takes to run a successful community café. If you have any experience of running one, they’re looking for help.

  • Public house ownership

    Communities pooling their resources to buy the local pub is pretty mainstream in England but for some reason not in Scotland. However, that’s starting to change and the village of Gartmore in Stirlingshire is aiming to be in the vanguard of this community landlord movement with a share offer already well underway. Gartmore have got history when it comes to buying up important community assets. Already in their property empire they have the village hall and local village shop - the Black Bull will be a welcome and important addition.

  • Local solutions to national crisis

    With the highest recorded number of drug-related deaths in Europe, Scottish Government finds itself severely hampered in terms of being able to take any direct action because all drug related policy and legislation remains a reserved matter at Westminster. So while there are no silver bullets or big national policy levers to pull, as ever there are innumerable tried, tested and above all, trusted, community based services that SG could be investing in so that they can be better equipped to step up to the plate. In the face of this crisis, are there any realistic alternatives.

Policy talk

  • Media sceptics

    At a recent roundtable discussion about Scotland’s forthcoming Citizens’ Assembly, the point was made that the mainstream media would have an important role to play in building up an awareness and understanding of the process amongst the general public. Although many other countries around the world use Citizens’ Assembly to great effect, this is relatively new ground for Scotland and we have never before experimented with this form of deliberative democracy on this scale. Disappointing then, if not particularly surprising, that some parts of the media seem determined to undermine it before it’s even begun.

  • Better promotion

    When the first piece of land reform legislation was passed, the right wing press screamed headlines predicting Mugabe-style land grabs. The part of the 2003 Act they were most outraged about was the community right to buy provisions but their fears that communities everywhere would rush to use the legislation proved groundless. At the time, little effort was made to promote the opportunities presented by the Act, so it was no surprise that so few communities sought to take advantage of them. Seems like similar issues are afflicting parts of the Community Empowerment Act.

  • Look at ourselves

    Many third sector organisations may be undermined simply by the way they organise their own internal governance. This is the challenge put out by Lankelly Chase CEO, Julian Corner and the case he makes is compelling. If the mission of an organisation is ultimately to disrupt a system in order to challenge a social issue, it may find that the way in which it has set up its own governance mirrors the very social problem it is attempting to resolve, and therefore is likely to be perpetuating whatever that social issue is. Confused? Time for some introspection, perhaps.

  • Trusted audit system builds trust

    The purpose of an auditor is to build trust in the organisation they have audited. One of the sideshows of the financial crash was the volley of criticism aimed at the audit industry which had failed catastrophically to do even a half decent job - compromised no doubt by the vast audit fees they were paid.  However in the public sector, there is a very different regime of audit and Scotland’s system is apparently the envy of many other countries. Perhaps if it was better understood by the general public, trust in these institutions would grow.

About Scottish Community Alliance

Scotland's leading community sector networks have joined together as the Scottish Community Alliance in order to campaign for a strong and independent community sector in Scotland.

The Alliance has two main functions - to promote the work of local people in their communities and to influence national policy development. We email regular briefings to our supporters on both these themes. More about us here...