Local Governance Review: analysis of responses to Democracy Matters

An analysis of the responses received during the Democracy Matters engagement phase of the Local Governance Review.

Section 5: How do people describe their community: what does it mean to be ‘local’?

This section describes what people said in response to the DM question:

When thinking about decision-making, ‘local’ could mean a large town, a village, or a neighbourhood. What does ‘local’ mean to you and your community?

Many submissions described local in terms of a specific place, or geography. For example, it was simply identified as ‘my town’, ‘my village’. In a large city, some submissions described local as being ‘the neighbourhood’. A distinction was often drawn in this case between what were seen as the artificial boundaries around which different public services and councils were organised, and what was described as ‘natural communities’, that made sense to people locally.

Some described it in terms of size, or distance, for example: ‘the area you can walk around’.

Others identified that what was regarded as local related to the specific issue. They identified that decisions might appropriately be taken at different ‘levels’ (e.g. national/local/community). The following illustrates this:

‘I live in a village but community to me also includes the whole county. There are some decisions that affect these as a whole but some that are irrelevant to smaller towns
and villages.’

Many submissions also made an association between social connections, and a shared sense of identity and belonging. The following extracts from responses illustrate this:

“a place where there is community spirit”
“old and young working together helping each other”
Communities of interest/identity were likely to describe ‘local’ in these terms, as based around shared experience and identity.

Some submissions made the point that ideas about local need not necessarily refer to a physical place but may relate to communities online, an example of this was the LGBTI community.

The difficulty in answering this question is captured by this comment:

“Local is entirely subjective and for many a relative concept. Local is primarily about identity rather than necessarily defining the place where decision-making should happen.”

The photograph below shows how understandings of what it means to be “local” were discussed and represented in one of the community conversations:

This photograph shows how understandings of what it means to be “local” were discussed and represented in one of the community conversations

There were a few submissions that did try to develop a specific definition of ‘local’ that might operate when thinking about community-level decision-making. For example, a submission suggested that ‘community level’ could be defined by an upper and lower limit on population size, but did not identify the size.


Email: jen.swan@gov.scot

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