Rural Development Council - Dumfries February 1 and 2, 2010 - Minutes

Rural Development Council - Dumfries - February 1 and 2, 2010

Present

Chair

Roseanna Cunningham, Minister for Environment

RDC Members

Kate Braithwaite, Liam Beattie, Pat Buchanan, John Ferguson, Sheila Garson, Stuart Housden, Dame Barbara Kelly, Derek Logie, Jim McLaren, James McLellan, Neil Macleod, Donald MacRae, Alex Walker

Scottish Government

Peter Russell, Director, Rural and Environment
Bruce Beveridge, Deputy Director, Rural Communities Division
Jane Dalgleish, Head of Branch, Rural Policy, Rural Communities Division
Dave Thomson and Max Ketchin, Secretariat for the Rural Development Council

Apologies

Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment
David Fyffe (RDC)
Alison Gray (RDC)
Michael Gray (RDC)
Kristiana Le Mar (RDC)

Opening Comments

The meeting was opened by the Minister for Environment, who gave apologies on behalf of Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, David Fyffe, Alison Gray, Michael Gray and Kristiana Le Mar, a new member of the RDC, all of whom were unable to attend for a variety of reasons. The Minister welcomed the other new member of the RDC, Liam Beattie and invited him to say a few words about his interest in rural Scotland. Liam and Kristiana are both members of the Scottish Youth Parliament.

Liam Beattie spoke briefly about his concerns with the public transport infrastructure in rural Scotland, particularly as he came from Hawick. He drew comparisons with the availability of public transport in Stirling, where he was at University, compared to that in the Scottish Borders.

The Minister said that the purpose of this meeting was to take forward the Rural Framework. On behalf of the Cabinet Secretary she thanked the Working Group and other members of the RDC for the amount of work they had put into the Framework and she invited Stuart Housden, Chair of the Working Group, to give an update on progress to date.

1. Progress on the Rural Framework

Presentation by Stuart Housden, Director RSPB(S) and Chair of the Rural Framework Working Group.

Stuart Housden spoke to the Rural Framework papers, which had been sent to members. He reminded them that the remit of the Working Group had been to inform the content and detail of a draft Framework document. He reported that, to date, the Working Group had had 3 meetings and the minutes of each had been circulated. He said that the Working Group had agreed that they should identify a number of key principles and that the document needed to be short and sharp, no more than 10-12 pages long. Other details, including examples of Best Practice could be contained in annexes. The Working Group was keen to ensure that the full council had an opportunity to participate in the development of the document.

Stuart went on to report on the meeting he and Kate Braithwaite had attended with the Cabinet Secretary and the Minister for Environment on 20 January. This had been a very constructive meeting and Mr Lochhead had expressed a wish that the document set out a vision of what rural Scotland would look like in the future. He briefly set out the timetable for the Framework document. Stuart concluded by asking the Council to challenge the Working Group if they thought they had got it wrong since it was, after all, their document.

Discussion

The Minister asked for observations and comments on the Rural Framework papers in general and the following points were made during discussion:

  • The Framework should be a document portraying a vision of what a future rural Scotland would look like and what it would be like to live and work in. It should be an exciting document containing innovative and forward thinking proposals which pushed boundaries. As such it must generate enthusiasm and debate, and be understood by everyone, not just policy makers.
  • The Framework would be owned by the RDC to present to the Government. It would not be a policy document. Rather policy would derive from it.
  • Care would have to be taken to ensure that the Framework did not give the wrong vision of rural Scotland.
  • There was a need to ensure that the Framework considered the relationship rural Scotland had with the land. However, care had to be taken not to confuse issues with the Land Use Strategy which is also currently being formulated.
  • The relationship between land, land use and the geography of rural areas needs to be recognised in the Framework. Should this be addressed in the introduction?
  • The Framework must focus on rural Scotland as a whole, not only Highlands and Islands. It needs to be inclusive. Rural mainland communities face the same problems as those in Highlands and Islands but each has specific challenges.
  • Solutions to address the problems facing young people. There is an ageing population. How can we attract young people back to rural communities and provide a sustainable economy, employment and a good quality of life.
  • Sustainability is an issue. Investment may be more limited in the future and investing in communities/projects that are sustainable needs to be prioritised in some way. Should the Framework address this?
  • There is a desire to learn from the numerous success stories around the country and identify what makes them successful.

2. Relationship between the Rural Framework and the Land Use Strategy

The Minister introduced Sally Thomas and invited her to speak about the relationship between the Rural Framework and the Land Use Strategy.

Presentation

Sally Thomas, Team Leader, Land Use Strategy Team gave a presentation on the progress and scope of the Land Use Strategy and its links with the Rural Framework.

Sally began by giving a history of the Rural Land Use Study and explaining that the study formed the basis of the Land Use Strategy. The Strategy itself was a requirement of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 which required that "Scottish Ministers must, no later than 31 March 2011, lay a land use strategy before the Scottish Parliament." She went on to explain the three main objectives of the Land Use Strategy;

(a) the Scottish Ministers' objectives in relation to sustainable land use;

(b) their proposals and policies for meeting those objectives; and

(c) the timescales over which those proposals and policies are expected to take effect.

She explained that the Land Use Strategy also had to contribute to; emissions reduction targets, Scottish Ministers' objectives in relation to climate change adaptation and sustainable development. Sally continued by explaining the scope of the Strategy, which had caused much debate. Since it was developed from the Rural Land Use Study, it was assumed that it is a rural strategy. This is not the case, it addresses all land use. There was a question whether it was a climate change strategy or a sustainable land use one? It was clarified that it is a strategy for land use that is sustainable but with a clear eye on climate change. Sally went on to outline the project structure, workstreams and the timescale of the work programme. In closing, Sally demonstrated the relationship between the Rural Framework and the Land Use Strategy and how the two are interlinked.

Discussion

The Minister thanked Sally for her presentation and invited comments from members. The following points were made:

  • The Land Use Strategy will be a statutory document.
  • There are clear benefits to be had from land use but this use has to be optimised.
  • There was a strong feeling that the multiple use of land needs to be encouraged and this use has to be sustainable.
  • Planning Permissions can lead to barriers to "better land use" such as building housing on good agricultural land. This can lead to a lack of growth in communities that are surrounded by such land.

3. Community Asset Ownership/Development/Enterprise

The Minister welcomed Angus Hardie to the meeting and invited him to speak about Promoting Asset Transfer, a programme of research and development work which has been grant funded by the Scottish Government and is currently being carried out by the Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS). Two workshops to discuss specific questions posed by Angus would follow.

Presentation

Angus Hardie, Director, Local People Leading thanked the RDC for the opportunity to speak and explained the background to the first phase of the Programme which has been to review the current policy and practice of Scotland's local authorities in relation to the transfer of public assets into community ownership. There would be two further phases - a series of demonstration projects and a programme of seminars and events which would target a range of different audiences - elected members, local government officers and community groups.

He explained that this work needed to be seen in the wider context of the Scottish Government's Community Empowerment Action Plan which identifies community ownership of assets as making an important contribution to the empowerment process.

Although the scope of this review had been restricted to local authority assets it was acknowledged that many of the same principles could be applied to other public sector assets - particularly in the rural context. In general, the review had found that awareness of the potential policy linkages between asset management and community empowerment were not as developed as in England where the Government's Quirk Review had created a national focus of attention for further policy development and specific programmes of work to advance the asset transfer agenda. It was because the Quirk Review and the subsequent Government action plan did not apply in Scotland that DTAS had sought the funding for the Promoting Asset Transfer programme.

Some interim findings had been circulated to members prior to the meeting. These included:

  • Levels of awareness of the Community Action Empowerment Plan amongst Councils was relatively low.
  • Very few council officers spoken to were aware of policy developments in England or had heard of the Quirk Review.
  • Most councils expressed a preference to consider transfer of management responsibility through long leases rather than transfer of outright ownership.
  • Many councils expressed reservations about the capacity of community groups to sustain themselves over the long term and consequently had concerns that transfer of ownership would ultimately result in the council having to take back the asset in a worse condition than before the transfer.
  • Many council expressed the view that they were the elected 'custodians' of these public assets and that to dispose of them to community groups was not considered to be good stewardship of the common good assets.
  • Many local authorities felt obliged to ensure that best value was extracted from any asset disposal and that to offer the assets to communities as less than best value was difficult to justify.
  • Many local authorities acknowledged that they were risk averse and that this was because of previous bad experience of transferring assets to communities.
  • Many councils had recently revised their asset management strategies but very few of these were reflected in other council strategies in relation to community development/empowerment

Workshops

Alex Walker asked each group to consider the following questions:

  • The importance of asset transfer in a rural context.
  • Is more asset transfer desirable?
  • When a public agency is considering asset disposal, should there be a requirement to give active consideration to transfer to community at less than best consideration?
  • What are the barriers to greater levels of asset transfer?
  • What could be done to overcome these?
  • The importance of asset transfer in a rural context.
Workshop A
  • Agreed that asset transfer was desirable, but there were concerns over wider issues of land transfer.
  • Projects can sometimes suffer from a "pillar to post" attitude which can grind them down.
  • The mechanisms between public bodies can be difficult and there is a need for public funding initially, even to build confidence in a project.
  • The major advantage is the ability to protect a local asset, such as a shop/school/post office etc. This sort of project is much more prevalent in a rural context.
  • Local control is key due to issues of geography and distance and a different ethos has built up because of this.
  • Often, projects are hugely dependant on a handful of enthusiastic individuals, which leads to issues over a project's capacity to continue in the longer term.
Workshop B
  • Agreed that asset transfer is important in a rural context but this should also include meaningful management of ownership
  • There was a mixed picture of success. Examples of successful asset transfers (Gigha, Oban Pool) and failures (Dunoon) were discussed.
  • There must be total community control of asset. The community entity must have trustees and be totally independent.
  • Broad agreement that asset transfer had been a success.
Is more asset transfer desirable?
Workshop A
  • Yes, as the income generated can lead to further developments
  • However, it must be transfer of assets and not liabilities
  • There is a need to be realistic about the effort involved in asset transfers
  • There are rules involved that must be followed, both European legislation and local. Budgeting rules in particular have to be adhered to and differ from local and national government
Workshop B
  • Agreed that asset transfer is desirable.
  • There is a need to find a balance between trustees to achieve this. Must have the right people in the right places.
  • There must be a community desire to own the asset - bottom up approach.
When a public agency is considering asset disposal, should there be a requirement to give active consideration to transfer to community at less than best consideration?
Workshop A
  • Where possible, this would be desirable. For example, the MoD was an example of a willing seller on Uist, but the asset still had to be sold at the value determined by district valuation. This is a useful process but still open to contest. Legally speaking, local councillors are individually liable for the sale and its value.
  • A question was raised over whether it was desirable for each transfer to come with an open book of any previous action taken in relation to the asset. This would be the buyer a clear idea of what work may still be required as well as the financial stability of the asset.
  • The audit process must be robust enough to withstand future scrutiny
  • Possibility of a long lease "probation" period. This could allow community's the option to purchase an asset after a period of leasing to determine the feasibility of the transfer
Workshop B
  • Consider free transfer of asset (after all it is owned by the public in the first place) with proviso for backward transfer if it fails.
What are the barriers to greater levels of asset transfer?
Workshop A
  • Bureaucracy
  • Health and Safety issues
  • Communications between different agencies
  • Sustainable funding streams
  • Volunteer fatigue (sometimes brought on by lack of skills or support)
Workshop B
  • Lack of trust between communities and councils
  • Funding. Capital funding is relatively easy to find but ongoing revenue funding is an issue.
  • How does proposed asset transfer/ownership fit with LA or Community Council development plan?
  • Community Capacity and Community burnout
What could be done to overcome these?
Workshop A
  • Use of example of good practice and successful projects
  • Use model communities to show the process in action
  • Development of necessary skills (possibly even by the seller and may even be included in the price)
  • Provision of technical support in the long and short term
  • Include a duty of asset ownership by both seller and buyer
  • Remove the need for communities to scrap for every penny
Workshop B
  • Ensure adequate support mechanisms are available e.g. HIE, LEADER and Community Development Officers.
  • Development of community capacity is crucial - provide services that people need/want.
  • A sustainable business plan is crucial.
  • Essential to make younger generation aware of community asset transfer process.
  • Promote examples of success stories.

Plenary Discussion

The Minister noted that both groups had identified many problems and invited feedback. The following points arose during the feedback session:

  • There must be a purpose to asset transfer, not simply for ownership. Organisation capacity is critical and it must be supported by a sustainable business plan.
  • A sustainable income stream is also critical to ensure continued success. Renewables were cited as a good example of this. Not simply wind turbines but all types of renewables.
  • There should be a focus on the benefit of the end product.
  • Mechanism to support local communities to build affordable housing which in turn could provide a sustainable income stream. E.g. Rural Housing to Let Scheme.
  • Not all assets are sustainable - there is little point in investing in an unsustainable asset.
  • Concern was raised about the lack of trust between Local Authorities and Communities. This needs to be addressed. There may be tension between community councils and community development.
  • Should there be a register of government and local authority assets available to allow communities to state an interest.
  • Agreed that there is a mixed picture of success and acknowledged that success seems to be dependent on individuals with charisma, talent, skill and time.
  • There may be different sources of capital available from 3rd sector connection.
  • LEADER is a source of funding that is designed for just these sort of projects and investment in professional and/or technical support is key to the process
  • Lease to buy options could give communities time in which to raise the funds necessary for a full purchase, whilst gaining an insight into the effort involved in maintaining the asset.
  • The ability to combine several public services into a single asset is one way to maximise the return on the asset. For example, a library, GP surgery and post office in single building. Equally changing the use of an asset can have an invigorating affect.

Tuesday 2 February

A History of The Crichton

Barbara Kelly gave a short presentation on the history of The Crichton, how it has evolved and the benefits that it has produced for the local area.

presentation

4. Localism and Community Empowerment

Infrastructure of Support for Rural Communities

Presentation by Kate Braithwaite. Kate explained that her session would focus on factors which could assist in the development of rural communities. The session would be divided into 2 halves. The first part would discuss the infrastructure of support for Rural Communities. She acknowledged that compared to other parts of the UK, Scotland now had many vibrant and active rural community initiatives, BUT not all rural communities are vibrant. She wondered if there was any intervention that might speed up the process of empowerment. Evidence from other EU member states suggests that a national network of village movement can support high levels of local activity through inspiration, case studies and study visits. Through the Rural Development Programme, Scotland now has the Scottish National Rural Network (SNRN) - a mix of virtual and face to face support for those involved with rural development.

Kate then invited Jane Dalgleish to say a few words about the success of the SNRN website. Jane explained that the SNRN website had been launched in April 2009 and it had had 56,000 visits since then. The website had attracted some 56,000 visits since then. It was very well regarded in the UK and EU and Scotland had been invited to a Pan European exchange. Rural Gatherings last year had been a success and more were planned. Kate summarised by saying that study visits are life changing and enabling this activity could be an advantage.

She then introduced the workshop theme;

Should Scotland support a single, comprehensive Rural Network that builds upon SNRN and what functions could such a network undertake to support rural community empowerment?

Workshops

The following points arose from the workshop discussions.

Workshop A
  • There is a need to promote awareness of the SNRN as a first port of call.
  • Could it be introduced to schools/educational establishments?
  • Who is it there to serve?
  • Is the SNRN identity confusing?
  • Has any survey been done to establish the success of the SNRN?
  • Acknowledgement that it is a useful support tool. CAGs, etc.
  • Could the SNRN be developed further? Is there an events/diary page? Are there missing areas?
  • Would it be useful to develop comments on the SNRN to enhance results on search engines?
  • How far can we go to promote Rural Gatherings in the Framework?
Workshop B
  • Useful to continue with the mix of virtual and face to face sources of information and support.
  • Brigade information source and case studies into one, accessible area (one stop shop).
  • Active collection of information on good practice. Go out and get the stories.
  • Some communities do find it difficult to find the time to share their stories - we need to facilitate this.
  • Any network should not become "top down "(i.e. led by government). They need to be kept dynamic. That's what keeps interest.
  • Use of blogs to speed up or keep interactive exchanges and help going
  • Involve Highlands & Islands Enterprise (HIE) and Scottish Enterprise (SE) in the SNRN site.
  • Signposting on the website is critical. People need to be able to get to the sort of information they are looking for in no more than 3 or 4 clicks
  • Help to build community capacity.
  • HIE needs to hold on to their community empowerment remit and SE need to focus more on it.
  • Help to facilitate face to face events (use of the calendar of events on the site)
  • Assistance with bringing people together for events (travel expenses. facilitation etc)

Plenary Session

The Minister invited general feedback in a short plenary session. The following comments arose:

  • There was a general consensus that SNRN was a good starting point for a one stop shop but at present not enough people were aware of its content and purpose. There needs to be a marketing exercise to make more people and organisations aware of it.
  • Is there room to improve SNRN?
  • Consider contributions of HIE and SE to the Network.
  • Is the success of the SNRN monitored in any way?

Village Action Plans

Presentation by Kate Braithwaite. Kate began her second presentation by explaining that the most successful rural communities have planned their future by producing a community action plan. Parish Plans in England are good examples. In Scotland it is less common for communities to do action planning - this may be because of a reluctance by Local Authorities to support or encourage local level plans or because there has been no national scheme to support such activity. However, there have been some significant success stories; Sleat, Skye undertook action planning with the assistance of Conservation and Development in Sparsely Populated Areas (CADISPA) and this stood them in good stead when they subsequently took on the petrol station as a community enterprise. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park have supported action planning through their Community Futures Programme. There are many methods that can be deployed - no single approach - although it seems really important to have a good facilitator. There is a great opportunity to broker links between community action planning and wider community strategies. Is this enough?

Workshops

Kate introduced the topic for this workshop: How can Rural Communities be supported to plan their future? In this context she invited the workshops also to consider; Does the technical support exist? How do you provide the skills to support rural communities? Does funding exist? and how can community action plans be promoted?

The following points were raised during the workshop discussions:

Workshop A
  • Recommend a package in the Framework which would give advice on how to form a Community Action Group or how to formulate a Community Action Plan?
  • Communities should focus on positives. They should be proactive i.e. anticipate potential problems with community assets.
  • Need to encourage the use of expertise e.g. Facilitators.
  • Need for high level of training/toolkits for local facilitators thus avoiding the need to import this type of expertise.
  • Provide a toolkit in the framework for setting up a Community Action Plan. Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) has one available.
  • Potential Action Groups/Development Trusts need to be aware of existing development councils and bring whole community on board.
  • Need for access by communities to LA and Government resources.
  • Renewables seen as potential catalyst for community plans. They tick all the right boxes. Should LA planners recognise this?
Workshop B
  • Technical support is key, and is available but sometimes only at a cost.
  • Community plans need to be able to fit in with community planning to turn wish lists into realistic expectations.
  • Local councils have an important role to play at the outset. They need to be more aware of what can be done.
  • Avoid imposing plans on communities where they're not needed.
  • Ability to gauge the scale and location of issues where lack of plans are a concern would be a good start.
  • It would be useful to have a mechanism to help encourage and assist those communities without plans to develop them, ahead of any trigger for actions.
  • Target assistance better. Identify what the minimum requirements for such assistance might be.
  • Don't draw the boundaries of a community around the buildings, it's often wider than that.
  • Skills provision key. Can come from local government offices, private sector, or can even educate the community. This last option has the added advantage of building capacity within a community, which can be an asset in itself.
  • Two main stages to the process, facilitation (external) and development (local).
  • Funding of development officers to help kick start the process until it can become self sufficient, and reduce the bureaucracy involved in this early stage.
  • Use community plans to help feed central plans.

Plenary Session

The Minister felt that this had been a very useful session and invited general feedback. The following issues were identified during feedback:

  • Someone on the ground to assist in the early phases is key. This needs to go hand in hand with an exit strategy for when this help isn't there.
  • There should not be a single source of funding to keep the process impartial.
  • A catalyst for action seems to be key, but there is a need to encourage communities to be proactive as well, instead of waiting for a threat to a service before taking action.
  • Early identification of income generation to remove the reliance on funding in the long term. Renewable energy resources are seen as prime example but not necessarily only income stream.
  • How can we create the skills or facilitators to build future robustness, in the youth of the area particularly?
  • Early involvement of the community as a whole rather than the agenda of a few, key individuals.
  • There is some merit in commissioning expert facilitators to train locals.
  • Toolkits to assist communities to set up a community group or to formulate an action plan would be useful. There are plenty available but we need to direct people to them better.
  • Renewable energy resources also seen as a potential catalyst for community development. They tick all the boxes - emissions, income stream, move away from reliance on public funding, and empower communities. However renewables are not without problems - need to be aware of local opposition etc.
  • It is important for development trusts and community councils to work together.

5. Future Timetable and Agendas

The Minister gave an outline of the consultation process that SG was going to adopt on the Rural Framework. She explained that the Working Group, through the RDC, will present their paper to the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment in June. The intention is that the paper will then be issued for consultation, preferably in June or July. Members of the RDC will have an opportunity to consider and discuss the responses to the consultation exercise at their meeting scheduled to take place in October. The Minister invited members to provide available dates for this meeting.

The Minister went on to tell the members that during the meeting she and the Cabinet Secretary had had with Stuart and Kate on 20 January it had been agreed that another meeting of the RDC would take place on 15 March at the Battleby Centre in Perthshire (subsequently changed to the Edinburgh Airport Hilton Hotel). The purpose of this meeting was to enable the RDC to discuss the various elements of the Framework in detail and to take forward some of the points raised at this meeting. The Cabinet Secretary would not be present at the meeting on 15 March.

The next meeting of the full RDC will be on 7 and 8 June but the location for this meeting has yet to be decided.

The Minister closed by thanking the members for their contribution to the meeting.