As Chair of COSLA's Community Empowerment Task Group I have been encouraged to see the collective enthusiasm around this issue from elected members, the voluntary sector and others on the group.
I hope that this exercise of drafting a high level action plan in partnership with the Scottish Government will be but the beginning of an ongoing developmental process which will enable communities to participate fully in the events and affairs which affect the communities in which they live.
Vibrant and healthy communities need community members who know there are opportunities to engage fully in the decision making processes that have an impact on their lives. We in Local Government cannot compel or require anyone to become empowered, we cannot make it happen, but we can remove barriers, promote better opportunities and support those already involved.
It is my hope that the launch of this plan will provide a platform for raising awareness about the good practice that is already happening across Scotland and about what still stands in the way of empowerment for others.
This action plan is not a stand alone document. Community Empowerment is a cross cutting issue that has the potential to revitalise wider and constructive participation in Scotland's democratic processes and bring new voices into policy and service delivery debates at all levels of government.
Along with this plan COSLA and the Scottish Government have signed a joint statement on Community Learning and Development, outlining how this approach contributes to the achievement of the outcomes councils have signed up to in their Single Outcome Agreements. Community Learning and Development has long been a key part of working with communities at a local level and is inextricably linked with the empowerment agenda.
This plan also ties into the wider commitment by COSLA's Community Wellbeing and Safety Executive Group to address Social Inclusion issues - including opportunities for democratic participation.
COSLA and the Scottish Government have signed up to three joint frameworks that are necessarily linked. These are Equally Well (health inequalities); Achieving Our Potential (tackling poverty); and the Early Years Framework. These three frameworks are all based on a common principle of early intervention. Progressing this approach will be a gradual but determined undertaking to which both levels of government are committed. It will necessitate integrated working between public and private sector partners including the voluntary and third sector. But crucially it must involve, in a real and participatory way the communities themselves. Their voices must be heard and listened to.
I believe that this Community Empowerment Action Plan and the work that will follow in communities across Scotland will provide a basis for engagement with these three strands of work that are so important to improving the quality of life in our communities and the life chances of the next generation.
Harry McGuigan, COSLA Spokesperson for Community Wellbeing and Safety