Community

Consultation on the Community Empowerment & Renewal Bill – a missed opportunity?

Posted by admin on August 21, 2012
community, community assets, governance / 1 Comment

Finally got a chance to sit down and read the Scottish Government’s consultation on the proposed Community Empowerment & Renewal Bill. Underwhelmed is the adjective that first springs to mind. Whilst many of the sentiments are in principal fair enough, there is not really any new thinking or innovation on display here (the Community RTB, enforcing sale of empty buildings, community budgeting, asset transfers – have all been talked about, or are already being taken forward elsewhere in the UK). Given Scotland has historically been a leader in thinking about community asset ownership in the UK context (e.g. CLTs, CBHAs), the lack of new thinking is dispiriting.

Worst still, there is a surprising lack of connection being made between community empowerment and other government policy areas. The obvious one being the Scottish Government’s recent Regeneration strategy with its focus on community anchor organisations as key regeneration vehicles, supported by the new People & Communities Fund. Why is there no discussion of community anchors in the consultation document? It’s a very useful concept for talking about community controlled and owned organisations that are committed to transforming their local area for the benefit of the people who live there [see my previous post on this]. And there are already lots of great examples of this across Scotland in a multitude of different sectors that could be drawn on.

But the major problem with this document for me, is that it takes as its starting point Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) which are ultimately local authority vehicles operating at the municipal scale. I would argue if you are genuinely interested in devolving ownership and control to local people then you need to think at a much more local (i.e. neighbourhood) scale, and also give more of a leading role to the voluntary and community sector. Neither of which are common occurrences in CPPs. That’s not to say CPPs don’t have their utility, but promoting grass-roots community engagement doesn’t strike me as one of them.

Another important issue that isn’t picked up in the document is the negative side of the localism agenda. Devolving power downwards may actually exacerbate existing social-spatial inequalities within and between Scotland’s communities. There are several reasons for this, not least the fact that some communities may be more able than others to articulate their needs and command resources (issues such as skills, education, capacity, experience are all relevant here).

Moreover, we should not assume that communities necessarily want to take control – if you look at research in the housing field in many instances local people supported community ownership of social housing as a mean to an end (i.e. to secure investment and improvement in their houses and communities). Where local people are already receiving a good service from public sector providers there may not be any demand for asset transfer -and we should avoid foisting it upon them simply so that assets can be removed from public sector budgets (and thus reduce costs to the public purse).

On a final (slightly left-field) note, I have to say I’m really put off responding to these Scottish Government consultations because of the nature of the respondent form/consultation questions – these are too pre-determined (and often quite technical in focus) and shut off a lot of avenues for debate and discussion…. rather ironic for a consultation on community engagement and empowerment. There is a real need for more open-ended questions that allow some flexibility in how to respond, for responders may wish to respond to different questions to those raised in the document for example.

If you’ve not yet responded to this consultation you still have time to do so. Closes 29th August. (now extended to 26 Sep).

For an alternative analysis of the consultation document see @BaseDrones blog: http://t.co/w37E4VWe and that of @urbaneprofessor: http://t.co/dvWt0JeK

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Achieving a Sustainable Future? the Scottish Government’s regeneration strategy

Posted by admin on December 12, 2011
CBHAs, community, regeneration, Uncategorized, Urban / 2 Comments

The Scottish Government launched it’s Regeneration Strategy today: Achieving a Sustainable Future?

No big surprises; rather it represents a reply to the previous discussion document and the responses received to this.

Whilst I was pleased to see a strong emphasis on Community-led Regeneration I find this at odds with the emphasis on Local Authorities and Community Planning Partnerships (CPPs) as lead agents of regeneration. There is an important question of scale here in terms of what is the best ‘scale’ at which to deliver regeneration. To me, ‘community’ and ‘municipalism’ aren’t the same thing (although I imagine there are people who’d disagree with me on this) … indeed many community organisations report very negative experiences of CPPs, not least because of local ‘politics’. Alas, it seems however that the re-establishment of a national regeneration housing agency (a la Scottish Homes) is not on the cards.

A major criticism I had of the previous discussion document (as outlined in my response to it on behalf of the GWSF of HAs) was a surprising lack of awareness of the contribution community-based houisng associations (CBHAs) have made to Scotland’s renaissance over the last 30 years. Thankfully this iteration of the document demonstrates a more nuanced and informed awareness of the contribution of Third Sector organisations and their capacity to act as ‘anchor organisations’ in a regeneraton context. I was also genuinely excited by the prospect of the new People and Communities Fund and the Community Ownership Fund. Nonetheless, the SG’s assertion that an “asset-based approach will also help to overcome stigmatisation and will support communities to have a positive identify in the future” (p19) seems at worst ill-informed with regards to the research on poverty and place, or at best very naive.

At the end of the day Scotland’s deprived communities are the product of deeply entrenched material inequalities. Giving people more control over local assets and decision making although important and welcome, cannot on its own address poverty and its damaging effects. This requires redistribution of wealth. Something that was largely absent from the regeneration strategy discussions. Perhaps this reflects the limits of the currenty devolution settlement, for control over the benefits and tax system (which are key tools for redistributing wealth) are preserved powers of the Westminister Government. Targeted place-policies, I fear, on their own are not enough to tackle the scourge of poverty in Scotland. We need to think about people as well as place policies.

On a final note, I was extremley pleased to see the point about the negative effect of stigmatising language (p46) as this was something I stressed in my own response to the discussion document. Nonetheless, despite this insightful reflection the document then continues to use exactly the type of language it admits to be stigmatising (‘disadvantaged communities’, ‘our poorest places’), so still more thinking needed on this one me thinks. Perhaps they should read the excellent report they commissioned from John McKendrick earlier in the year on ‘Writing and Talking about Poverty’.

Overall, an interesting paper which ticks all the regeneration buzz-word boxes, but I would have liked the SG to be bolder in its vision for regenerating Scotland’s low-income neighbourhoods, and to not shy away from talking about inequality. After all, as recent reports from the OECD and the JRF highlight the UK (and Scotland as part of that) is an increasingly divided nation.

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How Much is too Much Regulation?

Posted by admin on November 27, 2011
community, governance, regulation, social housing / 4 Comments

The importance of community

The Scottish Housing Regulator’s current consultation on reforms to the regulation of social landlords in Scotland has sparked controversy within the sector (see for example, recent articles in the Glasgow Herald and Inside Housing, and briefing papers by the community housing sector).

The biggest moot point is over plans to introduce a mandatory fixed-term for committee members (who make up landlords’ governing bodies).  This change is especially problematic for small, community-based housing associations (a dominant governance model in the west of Scotland), because their management committees are drawn from ordinary local residents.  The passion, commitment and local knowledge of these individuals, combined with the partnerships they forge with local housing staff have been central to the success of this governance model; and the skills and experience these community leaders develop over the years is invaluable. That the Regulator wants to consign this to the scrap-heap is sad indeed, especially when most committee members are already subject to regular, open elections.  A second related concern is the proposal to pay governing body members.  This not only contradicts the ethos of volunteering and place based social capital that underpins the community housing sector in Scotland, but seeks to introduce a ‘private sector’ governance model which is inappropriate for community organisations, many of whom are also registered charities.  There seems to be a real tension between the Regulator’s desire for ‘professional’ boards and the benefits of community governance through the community ownership of social housing.

Beyond this immediate issue, the consultation also sparks questions about how much is too much regulation?  There have long been concerns that housing associations are over-regulated compared to other independent, third sector organisations. Whilst housing association do receive financial support from the public purse does that mean the Regulator should be able to dictate the terms of their constitution, or how they govern themselves?  Or would the regulatory gaze not be better directed on the Private Rented Sector which is where the real rogue landlords are to be found?  Answers on a postcard …..

(for further discussion of mandatory terms see the excellent paper by GWSF )

 

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