1. The Scottish Government has a clear purpose to create a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth, and it is determined to work in partnership across Scottish society to deliver on that purpose.
2. As part of our vision for strengthening Scotland's communities, the Scottish Government has proposed to bring forward a Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill. Through this Bill we aim to make it easier for communities to take over unused and underused public sector assets and to introduce measures to help communities deal more effectively with vacant and unused property in their areas. Both aims have a shared goal of increasing locally driven, enterprising community development - an important step to achieving sustainable economic growth.
3. Our economic strategy and our plans for public service reform both set out the need to ensure we have high quality, sustainable public services that are capable of delivering the best outcomes for our communities. As noted above, those delivering public services need to ensure they work with communities to design and deliver services around the communities needs. That is why we welcomed the Christie Commission's recommendation that this Bill consider ways to strengthen the participation of communities in the planning and delivery of services.1
4. In developing initial ideas for this Bill we have spoken to many people across all sectors and from a number of different communities throughout Scotland. We have heard from those communities, and from many in local authorities and the wider public sector, of inspiring and innovative examples of work already being undertaken to support community empowerment. However, we also heard that much of the success to date has been achieved despite the current rules and regulations rather than because of them. This consultation seeks ideas to rectify that situation.
Public Service Reform and Community Planning
5. These are uniquely challenging times. We need to do things smarter and better - the driving purpose of our plans for public service reform is to achieve better outcomes, reduced inequalities and sustainable economic growth for local communities. Achieving this will not be possible without working with our partners in the public, private and third sectors - and with communities themselves - to unlock the knowledge, abilities and potential of all of Scotland's communities.
6. The review of Community Planning recently undertaken jointly by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities ('COSLA'), agreed that effective community planning arrangements will be at the core of public service reform and will drive the pace of public service integration, increase the focus on prevention and secure continuous improvement in public service delivery in order to achieve better outcomes for communities.
7. Key to this will be ensuring the right processes are in place to enable the breadth of Community Planning partners and communities to come together to understand local needs and aspirations and to design and deliver services that meet those needs and aspirations.
8. The Scottish Government, COSLA and other Community Planning partners recognise that changes, including as necessary legislative change, will be needed to realise these ambitions. Work to develop and deliver proposals for such changes will be taken forward quickly. The Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill could be a suitable vehicle for delivering any such legislative change.
Proposed aims and content of the Bill
9. Throughout our discussions people have said we will need to be clear about the policy aims of the Bill. We are proposing that the Bill strengthens opportunities for communities to take independent action to achieve their own goals and aspirations and ensure communities are able to have a greater role in determining how their local public services are delivered. We would welcome your views on this proposed aim.
10. Community empowerment is a process which brings people from across communities and across the public, private and third sectors together to develop real and lasting change. As we recognised in our Community Empowerment Action Plan, produced in partnership with COSLA, there are many different ways in which communities can become more empowered. You can see a copy of the plan here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/03/20155113/0
11. Some communities become more empowered through owning assets, controlling budgets, or generating their own income to re-invest. In some cases, communities may want to take action to tackle anti-social problems in the community, to meet demand for new or different services or to protect a valued resource. Others will want to have an enhanced role in shaping the services delivered on their behalf by others.
12. We have separated our ideas for this Bill into three sections. Each contains a range of ideas, from new statutory rights and duties to smaller amendments to existing legislation, that could act as a catalyst for a wide range of community enterprise, community development and public service improvement:
- Strengthening Participation: Services should be built around and with people and communities - paying attention to their needs, aspirations, capacities and skills. Having the right procedures, practices and organisations in place will help deliver effective community engagement. Consistent and high standards of engagement can be achieved through ensuring appropriate methods are used by those designing and delivering services to inform, monitor, evaluate and report on engagement.
- Unlocking Enterprising Community Development: Communities owning assets, and being able to bring unused and underused assets in their areas back into use, can in the right circumstances be a catalyst for unlocking community empowerment, enterprise and increasing social capital.
- Renewing our Communities: Vacant or unused property can blight areas, create barriers to economic development, and lead to increased social costs for local authorities. Property owners can help by taking responsibility for the effect their properties have on communities. Local authorities should have the appropriate powers to step in and take action where necessary and communities can play an important role by taking action and influencing how such property is dealt with in their areas.
13. We hope this consultation will stimulate a debate on what we want to see in our local communities and what kind of participation we want to see. The consultation paper looks at how communities can take action and how they can influence the delivery of public services - we will also consider the role of local democracy and how people participate in and understand local government and elections.
14. Average voter turnout at the recent local government elections in Scotland was around 39%. Turnout (and engagement in the political process) is a matter for us all and we will work with relevant bodies (including the Electoral Management Board and the Electoral Commission) to consider what might lie behind the relatively low turnout and what can be done to increase turnout in future elections. This will form an important part of our thinking on how to empower communities and reinvigorate participation.
15. The overall aim of any consultation to bring forward new legislation must be to consider how legislation can build on and promote best practice, remove barriers and provide a framework of support where necessary. At the same time, it must recognise the need to strike the right balance, respecting and consulting on the interests and perspectives of stakeholders, and avoiding unnecessary or disproportionate new regulatory burdens.
Involving all our communities
16. We appreciate that there are diverse communities throughout Scotland, each with different needs and aspirations. Throughout our earlier discussions on the scope of the Bill, we heard of the importance of building community capacity to enable communities to take advantage of the opportunities the Bill will provide. Building capacity will also play an important part in achieving the aims of wider public service reform and in meeting the requirements of the public sector equality duty. We know this is an area where budgets are being hit - and once capacity is lost, it will be hard to build up again.
17. Building the capacity of our communities is a key outcome for Community Learning and Development (CLD). We are developing new national strategic guidance for Community Planning partnerships on CLD, which is due to be published shortly ('the strategic guidance'). The Christie Commission had recommended that the Bill should explore ways to promote action to build community capacity, recognising the particular needs of communities facing multiple social and economic challenges.
18. However, as part of the ongoing development and implementation of the strategic guidance, we are considering what can be done through legislation to strengthen the provision of CLD. This essentially fulfils the same goal and so this consultation does not ask about community capacity building. In taking forward the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill we will take account of any issues arising from the work on the strategic guidance.
19. We will also ensure the Bill is developed alongside national policies which aim to promote equality and strengthen our communities. Along with COSLA, we will continue in our efforts to tackle inequality in Scotland through our three frameworks: Equally Well (health inequalities); Achieving Our Potential (tackling poverty); and the Early Years Framework (supporting children pre-birth to age eight). We will also continue with the implementation of our Regeneration Strategy, which responds to the challenges faced by our most disadvantaged communities.
20. It will be important to ensure that community empowerment takes account of diverse communities and reaches both more marginalised individuals within communities and more marginalised communities within society. Public authorities are subject to the public sector equality duty and must have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations. Proposed new duties will also require public authorities to undertake equality impact assessments of new policies and practices and to publish the results of those assessments in order to consider the impact of new policies and practices.
21. We will consider how to promote a more integrated approach between equalities and community empowerment, which will help increase community cohesion and improve the effectiveness of service delivery to more diverse and marginalised groups.
22. When discussing community empowerment - one of the first questions many ask is 'What do we mean by community?' All communities are, of course, different. There are communities of place and communities of interest. Areas can contain a mixture of different communities. Community organisations can also play an important role - they are often around for the long term, have strong ties into the wider community and can provide the focus for community led action.
23. Deciding how communities are defined in this legislation will be an important consideration in taking this Bill forward. The definition may be different depending on whether we are discussing the transfer of assets or how to strengthen community participation.
24. We have included space for comments at the end of each section in the consultation paper to provide space for your thoughts on this issue. We would also encourage you to provide examples of definitions you feel have worked well in practice.
Purpose of the consultation
25. We would like to hear your views on the suggested ideas that we have heard could help deliver the aims of this Bill. This paper covers a wide range of complex issues and we appreciate there is a lot to consider. That is why we wanted to set out these ideas at an early stage, to ensure we are having the right discussions to create good and meaningful legislation.
26. Each of the three sections of this paper are equally important. Only by balancing action in all three areas can we hope to achieve the aims of the Bill. However, we appreciate some people will have a particular interest in certain areas. We would encourage you to respond to any or all of those parts where you feel you have a contribution to make.
27. Your contributions to this consultation will help us to decide what ideas should be taken forward in a draft Bill. We appreciate that getting the words and definitions used in this Bill right will be fundamental to achieving effective and meaningful legislation. That is why we will also hold a consultation on the draft Bill in Spring 2013.
28. Another reason for consulting at an early stage in the Bill's development is to give you the opportunity to share your views on the potential impacts of these ideas. We believe that by empowering communities we will promote positive social, economic and environmental impacts.
29. Throughout the development process we have been considering the potential impacts the Bill may have. We will carry out a full Equality Impact Assessment and Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment on the proposals that will be contained in the draft Bill. We will also consider the potential environmental impacts of any proposals and if a Strategic Environmental Assessment will be required.
30. We welcome your thoughts on the potential impacts, both positive and potentially negative, of any of the ideas in this paper and questions have been included at the end of the consultation paper for this purpose.