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Community Empowerment Bill Consultation

The consultation period is from 6 November to 24 January 2014.

This consultation document is available on the Scottish government website There are also online questionnaires here to help you respond.

Community Development Alliance Scotland has the following to say on this topic:

The long-awaited consultative draft of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill  has been launched (the ‘and Renewal’ bit has been dropped from the title). (Press release. Direct link to PDF document). In fact it is in three parts: a full draft Bill covering some topics; ‘detailed policy proposals’ on others which were not spelt out in the original consultation, but which the government now proposes to include; and a couple of ‘new policy ideas on wider issues’. Nevertheless we understand that it is still hoped to get a Bill through Parliament in this session. The current consultation period is fairly limited: until 24 January 2014. We will be in touch again shortly with details of an event that CDAS and the Scottish Community Development Centre are organising in December to bring the different sectors involved together to discuss our responses.

Here is our inevitably sketchy immediate summary of the main points.

The Overall Purpose, according to the Minister’s Foreword, is to “give people in communities, and those supporting them in the public sector, a range of new ways to help deliver a better Scotland”. ”The cornerstones on which the proposals are based” are:

  • “empowering our communities, making the most of the talents that exist in our communities;
  • delivering high quality and improving public services;
  • supporting strong local democracy and local decision-making;
  • and all of it focused on improving outcomes for individuals and communities across Scotland.”

The press release sets this in the context of “the support of the Scottish Government, set out by the First Minister in the Lerwick Declaration, for subsidiarity and local decision making.” COSLA is quoted as saying “”We are delighted to see the Scottish Government being explicit in its commitment to local democracy.”

Assets As expected there is a strong focus on asset transfer, though it should be noted that this is presented as ways to “make it easier for communities to take ownership or make more effective use of land and buildings” (our emphasis). Detailed legislative proposals are set out for “Asset Transfer Requests”. These “are designed to give community bodies a more proactive role in identifying public sector land and buildings that they would be interested in owning or using. The community body will be able to submit a request setting out its plans for the property. The public sector body will need to respond to any such requests in a transparent and rational way, basing its decision on an assessment of the best public benefit which can be gained from a particular ownership or use of an asset”.  Community bodies are defined for this purpose “in a way which seeks to reflect good practice in community asset ownership” – e.g  incorporated as a a company –  though the government could add more types through later Regulations. A list of public sector bodies affected is provided, which are said to be all those who are likely to hold assets that communities may be interested in. There is sure to be comment on the fact that, though an appeals process is provided for, this only applies to those public bodies which are neither local authorities nor Scottish Government departments, for reasons that the paper tries to explain. (Once a law is passed, however, there will always be the possibility of judicial review of bad decisions by any authority).

Under the heading of ‘detailed policy proposals’  there are a lot of issues raised on how to ‘improve and extend Community Right to Buy’ (i.e.  potentially from private as well as public landowners) . “We want to explore what a compulsory power for communities to buy neglected or abandoned land … could look like and how it would work”.

Community engagement  and democracy In the previous consultation a number of ideas were floated about giving communities rights to challenge services, for participatory budgeting etc. In the event, the proposal is to have one general new right, which it would appear might be used to  serve several such purposes. This has an unwieldy name: the ‘Community Right to Request to Participate in Processes to Improve Outcomes of Service Delivery” – we shall have to try to come up with a usable shorthand for that one! “This part of the Bill aims to empower communities by giving them the lead in starting discussions with the public sector on their own terms about the things that matter to them.” It is also described as “strengthening participatory democracy”.

The proposed new right is summarised like this:   “Where a community body believes it could help to improve the outcome of a service, it will be able to make a request to the public body or bodies that deliver that service, asking to take part in a process to improve that outcome. The community body will need to explain and provide evidence of how it could contribute to improvement. The public body must agree to that request unless there are reasonable grounds for refusing it, and must give reasons for any decision to refuse a request.” We would suggest that this has the potential to be either one of the most significant features of the eventual Act or a complete damp squib. There will no doubt be a lot of discussion to come on what it could mean, how it could be used effectively, and what needs for capacity building it would create.

The definition of community bodies that could benefit from this new right is more permissive than the one that applies to asset transfer. There is a shorter list of public bodies that would be affected, but this is the result of excluding some seen as relevant earlier only because they are land owners.  Local authorities, Scottish Government departments, the NHS, Police, Fire and Rescue, Scottish Enterprise and others would all be covered.

There are no other proposals for extension, simplification or co-ordination of rights of community engagement in public service provision or policy decisions. It does appear that the proposed  strengthening of Community Planning(see below) may include confirming that the ‘core duties of each CPP’ should include: “consult and engage with communities in identifying and prioritising the outcomes that are to be delivered and ensure that community engagement is properly planned, resourced and integrated across partners.” It is not clear whether this duty would be specifically mentioned in the statute.

In addition, one of the ‘new policy ideas’ in the paper is about “any other actions we could take to reflect local democracy principles that would benefit communities?”  COSLA is specifically arguing that the European Charter for Local Self-Government, mentioned in the consultation, should be enacted as part of the Bill, “thus guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities”

Community Planning Since the original consultation, a decision has been taken to include in this Bill the changes that have been discussed by the Scottish Government, COSLA and others in the Review of Community Planning. The main component seems to be “putting the need for CPPs to develop and ensure delivery of a shared plan for outcomes (i.e something similar to a Single Outcome Agreement) in the CPP area on a statutory basis”. In addition there would be new statutory duties for individual partner organisations (not just local authorities)  to support the CPP in the fulfilling its core duties and to their own individual contributions. “These duties aim to shift what participation in community planning means …   to something which is more explicitly focused on that organisation’s contribution to the delivery of improved outcomes for communities”.

Measuring what Matters? In a surprise inclusion, the other ‘new policy idea’  is a proposal “which builds upon the recommendation of the Carnegie UK Trust, that the … Bill should

  •  include a provision that places a duty on Scottish Ministers to develop, consult on and publish a set of outcomes that describe their long term, strategic objectives for Scotland, and
  •  include a complementary duty to report regularly and publicly progress towards these outcomes”.

This would entrench the need for something like the existing National Performance Framework. Carnegie comments “The proposals would put this approach on the statute books, enabling and requiring future governments to also set out their own vision for improving the well being of the people of Scotland, and ensuring that we can hold them to account for progress towards better outcomes.”

Other issues  There is a proposed new statutory duty on on local authorities to establish and maintain a register of all property held by them for the common good, and a requirement on local authorities to consult with community councils and other community bodies when establishing that register, and about the disposal and use of common good assets.

Proposals for “updated, simplified legislation to support allotments” are set out in considerable detail. A few other rather miscellaneous changes are proposed, and there is an announcement that the government is “considering options for a new scheme to exempt small and medium-sized third sector organisations from water and sewerage charges. We intend to consult separately on our proposals shortly”.

Capacity building?  The paper states that “legislation in itself does not produce empowered communities…. We recognise the need to build capacity in communities to help them take advantage of the opportunities available.” Apart from the possible strengthening of duties on Community Planning Partnerships  to resource community engagement, there are no proposals for statutory intervention to achieve this capacity building. As expected, the paper refers primarily to the Strategic Guidance on Community Learning and Development, and the Requirements for Community Learning and Development (Scotland) Regulations as the places to look. Reference is also made to Scottish Government support for the Community Ownership Support Service, the Scottish Land Fund,the People and Communities Fund, the Community Funds Gateway on the Scottish Government website, and Third Sector Interfaces. It also points out that the “guidance on new Single Outcome Agreements requires Community Planning Partnerships to engage with communities and to build their capacity to engage and deliver for themselves”.

 

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