Aberdeenshire Council candidate Paul Johnston, a leading Independent Councillor has welcomed the comments from the Scottish Community Alliance aheaScotland’s Local Elections on May 3rd.
“The Scottish Community Alliance has laid out the case well for a new relationship. I think the Director Angus Hardie identifies the level of difficulty but also the lack of alternatives that we all coping with the current economic circumstances. ” said Paul Johnston
“In a sense I find it slightly depressing that we have to talk as though Councils were not the same part of our communities as are third sector groups. But having acknowledged that, our symbiotic relationships are evidence of our close connection.”
“Procurement and asset transfer are indeed important. The concept of anchor organisations is well made. I take this as a need for deciding consistency and longevity in contractual relations with the third sector bodies in Aberdeenshire. Transparency I agree is ever present as a need for dealing with third sector organisations Councils are Byzantine at times in their processes.”
Councillor Johnston, in welcoming the paper from the Scottish Community Alliance said he hoped other Council candidates would consider this on a non-partisan basis and look ahead to it’s implications.
“I will be doing what I can to circulate the paper and seek support” said Paul.
A copy of the paper is below:
In advance of local council elections in May 2012
A call to build a new relationship with the community sector
The Scottish Community Alliance is a gathering point for the many networks of community based organisations in Scotland with a shared commitment to the principles of community empowerment and the devolution of decision making, responsibility and resources into the hands of local people. The membership of these networks reflect a broad range community interests including housing, transport, energy, credit unions, shops and post offices, recycling, carbon reduction, woodland management, community arts and crafts, local horticulture, land ownership and the management of other community assets.
While many of these local organisations fulfil the role of a community anchor (such as the local housing association or development trust) and as such are multi -functional, asset rich and generating independent income streams, the bulk of the community sector is comprised of many thousands of much smaller groups, often informal in structure and operating with little or no funding. Nonetheless through their actions, these local groups generate the ‘social glue’ that both shapes the daily life of a community and contributes to local resilience.
Therefore it follows that the relationship between local councils and communities is essentially symbiotic – with the actions of one inevitably impacting on the other. However, despite this apparent high degree of mutual dependency, all too often this relationship has failed to generate the potential synergies and shared outcomes which might reasonably be expected. In fact all too often the relationship has become characterised by mutual mistrust and antipathy.
The Scottish Community Alliance believes that at a time when austerity measures are beginning to bite and with the design of public services about to undergo a radical overhaul, there is a real opportunity to introduce measures that would fundamentally transform the relationship between councils and communities into one which delivers better outcomes for all. In particular there are four areas that the Scottish Community Alliance highlights:
1. rethinking procurement practice
Public procurement has become synonymous with ‘best value’ and the pursuit of ‘economies of scale’. The Alliance supports the drive for efficiency and value for money. However the Alliance takes the view that best value is not always found in the lowest tender, and that there can be real added value in services being delivered by projects run by the local community with a knowledge of and sensitivity to local needs. This requires a significant degree of culture change within local councils and in particular a commitment to the idea co- producing services with a new range of local partners.
Furthermore, it should be recognised that local procurement practice generates a local multiplier which further stimulates the local economy. Procurement practice can be the lever which delivers not only better services but also more self-reliant communities by creating new sources of independent income for a wide range of local organisations.
2. public asset transfer
The severe financial pressures that all Councils face have forced a fundamental review of Councils’ asset management strategies which will inevitably lead to substantial programmes of asset disposal. Many of these community assets could be successfully transferred to local anchor organisations on terms that could result in thriving community-run enterprises and the creation of new independent streams of income. This requires an open and transparent process for the disposal of public assets by Councils underscored by a public commitment on their part to support and develop successful community enterprises. Furthermore, this commitment needs to be cross departmental if it is to be effective. In addition all Councils should undertake to publish registers of community assets in conjunction with regularly updated plans of proposed disposals.
3. investing in local anchor organisations
As the capacity of Councils to deliver services to communities on a similar scale as they have in the past will inevitably become diminished over a sustained period of time, the priority must shift towards enabling communities to take on more responsibility and to become more self -reliant. As outlined above, local procurement and asset transfer are two potential mechanisms that will support this process. Another is for councils to recalibrate their relationship with communities and move towards a new relationship of equal partners.
In order to achieve this, Councils should formally acknowledge the role that local anchor organisations play within their communities and re-align council investment into communities accordingly.
4. transparency and accountability. In the interests of establishing a new relationship which is characterised by mutual respect and parity of esteem, it will be important to establish a better understanding of the issues faced by all parties. For instance, where cuts to the third sector have to be made, an explicit commitment should be made by Councils that firstly, these will be proportionate and consistent with cuts made elsewhere, and secondly, that a minimum of 6 months’ notice is given to allow alternative arrangements to be formulated by local communities.
To achieve this new relationship between local councils and the community sector will not be easy and will require culture change on both sides. However, what are the alternatives? It is estimated that the amount of funding available to councils will continue to reduce for many years to come and indeed are unlikely to return to previous levels. Public service reform is necessary and inevitable. Therefore maintaining the status quo is no longer an option. The community sector continues to be a very significant and under-utilised resource. The Scottish Community Alliance would argue that this opportunity to bring about a fundamental shift in the relationship between communities and their local councils is extremely timely and one that should be welcomed.