For community empowerment to become a reality, we need to do more than simply set out and understand the key principles which underpin empowerment and the roles of people involved. We need to invest in practical actions which will help to build capacity to deliver empowerment. Each in their own different ways, these actions will help to support the long term culture change that will be needed to see more communities becoming more empowered. They are not designed simply as eye catching gimmicks, but are designed to address many of the serious issues that affect a community's ability to become more empowered.
As we are continuing on a journey, it is highly likely that other actions may occur to people in time and we will consider gaps and new ideas when we review the plan in a year's time.
All of the actions set out in this part of the plan have been heavily influenced by the messages we heard through our dialogue process that took place from October to December 2007. Given that nearly 380 people gave of their time and energy to take part in that process it was important to us to take account of people's views.
HIGHLIGHTING EXISTING EXAMPLES OF COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT
A key message from the dialogue was that we shouldn't invent new community empowerment schemes, structures or processes. The point was made often that there was much for us to celebrate in Scotland. Many community activists said that they felt empowered through their involvement in existing community groups.
There was a clear call though that Government should get better at highlighting and celebrating existing examples of community empowerment. The purpose of this is to build enthusiasm for community empowerment and to show what can be achieved by empowered communities. The impact of highlighting these models will be to give more communities, and the people who support them, the confidence and ambition to achieve more themselves.
We are delighted that twelve examples from across Scotland agreed to be highlighted in this plan. We approached these groups on the basis that they show a range of models that people told us could be empowering. They involve communities owning assets, people playing a key role in influencing decisions about spending public money; they show what can be achieved by particular types of community organisation; community councils, registered tenant organisations and community based housing associations.
We also wanted to make sure that we included examples from urban and rural Scotland, as the successes we can celebrate exist right across the country in very different kinds of communities.
The examples that we highlight here focus on telling people's stories from their own perspective. They are designed to generate enthusiasm for the community empowerment agenda and to show that we want to get better at celebrating what communities themselves describe as success.
As we would expect, each example describes a community on a journey, some are farther along in their journey than others. Some have clear ambitions now to become even more empowered, whilst some are happy at this point with the degree of empowerment they experience.
Later in the spring, we will publish a companion document to the Action Plan that will provide more detail on each of the examples. This will draw out the learning from each example about how communities have become empowered.
We know that there are many, many more examples we could have approached, and as we go forward we want to explore opportunities to highlight some other existing examples, or new examples as they emerge.
DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A MODEL SCHEME OF ESTABLISHMENT FOR COMMUNITY COUNCILS AND A CODE OF CONDUCT FOR COMMUNITY COUNCILLORS
The 1973 Local Government Scotland Act defines the statutory purpose of Community Councils thus:
"In addition to any other purpose which a Community Council may pursue, the general purpose of a Community Council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to matters for which those authorities are responsible, and to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable'' . The Scottish Government is aware of several community councils who, either independently, or in discussion and agreement with their local authority, undertake a wide range of other responsibilities.
The Model Scheme was developed by the Community Council Working Group ( CCWG) with a view to the finalised Scheme providing a minimum basis for local authorities to adopt, should they wish to do so. This will allow for parity and greater consistency between Schemes and therefore, the operation of Community Councils, throughout Scotland.
The Code of Conduct for Community Councillors produced by the CCWG is based largely on the Code of Conduct for local authority councillors and relevant public bodies as provided for in the 2000 Act. The introduction of the Code will help to build trust in the working relationships between Community Councils, other community organisations and Councils.
SUPPORT FOR COMMUNITIES TO OWN ASSETS
Communities owning their own land and buildings can have a huge impact on their empowerment. Asset ownership won't be the answer for all communities, depending on their circumstances and their own wishes, but it can be very powerful.
Asset ownership can have key impacts. It can provide revenue for community organisations, making them more sustainable in the long term. It can give local people a renewed sense of pride in their communities, a real sense of a stake in the future of the places they live and work. For some community organisations, working towards asset ownership can be a fantastic catalyst for the group growing and maturing.
Of course many community organisations in Scotland already own assets - our highlighted examples include Gigha and Cordale Housing association who own significant amounts of land and buildings. We also have a long history of work that has supported asset ownership and development - most notably in rural Scotland. This includes the community right to buy legislation which has enabled communities to form over 120 properly constituted companies, or community bodies, register their community interest in land, and have a pre-emptive right to buy the land when it comes up for sale. Financial assistance and guidance has been provided over the years by the Scottish Land Fund, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise Community Land Unit. There is also a strong tradition of community based housing associations who, along with their housing stock, have played a major part in developing a range of other assets, from managed workspaces to community facilities.
In recent years community asset ownership and development has also benefited greatly from the existence of BIG Lottery Scotland's Growing Community Assets programme. This has provided £50m for community organisations to acquire and develop a wide range of assets.
So there is much to build on. However, taking on the ownership of assets is a complicated business. There are many pitfalls that can get in the way of community asset ownership working. Indeed, there may be occasions when a community seeking to own an asset may be the wrong way to develop the community. There are also important questions of principle and practice that have to be carefully considered in relation to asset ownership, for example if an asset is to be transferred from public sector ownership into community ownership there are important considerations like value for money and accountability to the public which have to be looked at carefully. In any circumstance where a community takes on an asset the issue of identifying and securing ongoing revenue streams to develop and maintain the asset is critical; otherwise communities find themselves stuck with a liability rather than an asset.
We will invest resources in new work that will help to overcome some of these barriers to ensure that community asset ownership happens in a way that benefits communities.
Working with colleagues in the third and public sectors, we will:
- Highlight examples where assets have been successfully transferred from local authorities to community groups;
- Highlight examples where local authorities have developed a strategic approach to community asset ownership;
- Issue revised guidance to local authorities on disposing of assets at less than best consideration;
- Develop a toolkit that helps people to assess the risks and benefits of community asset ownership;
- Work with BIG Lottery Scotland, in the context of their consultation on their future programme and Ministerial directions, to learn from the Growing Community Assets programme and consider future support for community asset ownership.
SUPPORT FOR LOCAL COUNCILLORS TO SUPPORT COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT
Elected members have a key role to play in setting strategic direction locally and promoting and supporting community empowerment. Many councillors currently provide invaluable support to their local community groups; helping them to have their voices heard and to overcome hurdles they face in getting things done.
There could be major benefits though in supporting councillors from across the country to share their experiences, to learn from each other and to be kept up to date with the latest developments in the theory and practice of community empowerment and engagement.
Working with the Local Government Improvement Service, the Scottish Government will fund a new training programme on community empowerment and engagement for elected members across the country. This will be a first for Scotland.
The course will focus on the policy, theory and practice of community empowerment and engagement, and will provide a space for councillors to consider how they can use their community leadership role to ensure that more communities become more empowered in Scotland.
TRAINING TO SUPPORT COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND EMPOWERMENT
There are still people who are charged with working with communities who won't have a very clear idea about what community empowerment means - or indeed what community engagement is. Others will lack the skills necessary for supporting community groups adequately.
People having the right skills and knowledge to effectively engage with and empower local people is key.
We will invest at National level to develop learning materials that will be of use in the real world and that will help to improve practice. This will build on the skills and competencies set out in Better Community Engagement - a framework for learning. We will develop these materials by working in partnership with people who are engaging with communities on the ground.
Community activists also benefit from learning at a national level. We will learn the lessons from the previous Community Voices Network, which was evaluated in 2007, to develop appropriate ways to increase local people's learning. We believe that activists sharing their own experience of empowerment is a powerful way of spreading the message of the benefits it can bring and the different approaches to achieving it. We will work with partners to develop the detail of this work over the coming months.
INVESTMENT TO IMPROVE COMMUNITY CAPACITY BUILDING
In 2007 the Scottish Government published an online resource guide to support community capacity building practice. 4 This was followed by Strengthening Scotland's Communities, 5 a programme of support to, and dialogue with, partners working to build community capacity across Scotland. The Scottish Government is currently funding the development of comprehensive practice guidance for community capacity building. This will be published and disseminated in 2009.
The Scottish Government is also currently funding a range of local partners to model solutions to national challenges in relation to effective community capacity building, by developing effective local approaches from which lessons can be shared across Scotland.
PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING PILOT:
During our dialogue, many people said that local people having more direct influence over public spending in their area, could be empowering.
The Scottish Government and COSLA will establish, by autumn 2009, a participatory budgeting pilot exercise focused on tackling Anti-Social behaviour - an issue we know many communities care deeply about - across three Community Planning Partnership areas as part of the community empowerment agenda. Participatory budgeting should enable local community and neighbourhood groups to influence local action by helping to direct how small action funds are spent to develop solutions to local antisocial behaviour problems. This pilot exercise will be supported by COSLA and the Scottish Government through the provision of training, guidance and match-funding.
COMMUNITY EMPOWERMENT PROGRAMME - DIRECT INVESTMENT ACCESSIBLE BY COMMUNITY GROUPS
Since May 2007, the Scottish Government has shown its commitment to empowering communities by both putting in place a range of new funding programmes, for example the Climate Challenge Fund which is absolutely about supporting community led solutions, and continuing and increasing some existing funding streams, for example the Wider Role fund, that community groups have access to. We set out here that Community Empowerment Programme that covers a range of policy areas and different kinds of community groups.
Taken together these funding streams total approximately £180m 6 of Scottish Government and European funding over the three year period 2008/11, a significant amount of potential direct investment in the work that communities want to do themselves.
Opening Celebration of the Backlands Project