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WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP COMMUNITY COUNCILS FULFIL THEIR ROLE?: A DISCUSSION PAPER BY THE SCOTTISH EXECUTIVE

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Introduction

Role of Community Councils

1. Community councils form the most local tier of statutory representation in Scotland. They were created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 and are intended to bridge the gap between local authorities and local communities and to help to make local authorities and other public bodies aware of the opinions, needs and preferences of the communities that they represent. The 1973 Act required local authorities to introduce community council schemes for their area and gave them a fairly large degree of freedom to tailor their scheme to the particular circumstances of their area. There are currently around 1,200 community councils in Scotland, though because community councils only exist where volunteers are prepared to represent their community in this way, some areas are not currently covered by a community council.

2. The primary purpose of community councils is to ascertain and express the views of the community which they represent. In addition to their primary role, many community councils involve themselves in a wide range of other activities including fundraising; organising civic and charitable events; maintenance of footpaths and cycle ways; and the provision and maintenance of flower beds and hanging baskets; etc.

3. Ministers are committed to ensuring that local communities are consulted on and are able to influence decisions and policies of local authorities and other public bodies, such as police forces and NHS Boards, which affect their area. This extends both to the development of their area and the way in which services are delivered to them. It is very much in line with Scottish Ministers' statutory duty to promote and encourage Community Planning as the key over-arching framework to improve the planning and provision of services. Community Planning promotes the involvement of communities in the decision making process on local services such as health, education and transport. Citizen engagement can make a real difference to the quality and responsiveness of services in their area and community councils can play a pivotal role in this regard.

The Review Process

4. This is not a consultation paper, rather it is the first stage in the process of reviewing the current community councils system by seeking views and feedback on a number of matters relating to the activities of community councils, their effectiveness and their role as the most local tier of democratically elected representation in Scotland. This paper is only one part of that process. Scottish Ministers and officials will be engaging with Local Authorities; representatives of community councils; other public bodies etc over the coming months in order to develop our thinking on this. The aim is to harness good practice and identify obstacles and areas of weakness which prevent community councils from being fully effective.

5. Community councils are democratically elected and accountable representatives of their community. Ministers regard community councils main role to be to ascertain and co-ordinate the opinions of their local community in order to ensure that decision-making statutory bodies, such as local authorities, are fully informed of the opinions and preferences of individual communities. As such, the focus of this review is very much on what steps can be taken to support community councils in their role as representative bodies for their area, and what can be done to improve their operational effectiveness. One possible outcome from the review is that Scottish Ministers will need to consider whether there is any requirement to modernise the current legislative requirements governing Community Councils. The forthcoming Discussion Paper on the Scottish Executive's Public Service Reform Agenda will also inform Ministers thinking in this regard. However, at this time Ministers do not envisage that the role and remit of community councils will change fundamentally and are clear that they will not be given significant new statutory powers or responsibilities such as the revenue raising powers available to Parish Councils in England and Wales.

6. This paper does not propose specific changes to the system and operation of community councils in Scotland, rather it seeks views and comments on a range of issues which the Executive considers to be key to the effective operation of community councils. These include: the effectiveness of legislation which provides for the establishment of community councils schemes; the content and detail of the current community council schemes; the rules governing community council elections; ensuring that community councils are genuinely representative of the communities they represent; their interface with the local authority decision-making process; funding and support including the provision of training; whether there is a need for a code of conduct for community councillors; and the process for engaging in national issues.

7. Some of the questions are aimed principally at community councils, while others are more relevant to local authorities, and many could be answered from either perspective. We leave it to consultees to decide which questions they wish to respond to. Comments from other interested parties are also welcome either on the questions and issues raised in this paper or of a more general nature which could include experiences of working with or being consulted by community councils.

8. You are invited to comment on the questions and issues raised in this paper and in doing so it would be helpful if you could refer in your response to the relevant chapter and question numbers and forward them no later than 28th February 2006 to:

Community Councils Review
Scottish Executive
Finance & Central Services Department
Public Service Reform Group: Local Governance & Licensing Division
Area 3-H ( South)
Victoria Quay
Edinburgh
EH6 6QQ

Responses can also be faxed to 0131 244 7058 or sent by email to:- Communitycouncils@scotland.gsi.gov.uk

Further copies of this discussion paper are available from the Review Team by phoning 0131 244 0885 or via the Scottish Executive website www.scotland.gov.uk under 'consultations'. Any general enquiries on the paper can be made to Alex Gibson on 0131 244 7042.

Please note that all responses submitted will be made available to the public unless confidentiality is requested by the writer.