North Ayrshire Council develops new strategy to increase community participation
North Ayrshire Council is developing a new Community Participation strategy with an aim to encourage more people to take part in local democracy and to increase community involvement in local decision-making.
Presented at a meeting of Cabinet on the 22 February, the initial proposal for a new Community Participation Strategy has been approved as council officers agreed upon its Statement of Intent – a document which summarises the main ways in which citizens can take part in local governance.
It follows on from the Youth Participation and Citizenship Strategy agreed in April 2021.
In the 2020 Best Value Audit Report, the Accounts Commission said that: “North Ayrshire Council strives to engage well with all parts of the community and partners to address poverty and inequalities, in order to learn from the voices of lived experience.”
And with a strategic direction informed by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the new strategy sets out to further develop the Council’s community engagement approach by strengthening communities, widening democratic participation and seeking new ways of connecting with citizens to support community organisations and volunteers to achieve their goals.
Louise McPhater, cabinet member for participatory democracy, commented: “Open, transparent and participatory government - where people get involved to inform the decisions we make as a Council - are fundamental to democracy. This is why we are shaping the new Community Participation Strategy.
“In order for us to deliver the best council services possible and deliver them effectively, we recognise that it is vitally important that our services are shaped and informed by the people who live in North Ayrshire.
“Currently there are a number of ways in which citizens can get involved to ensure their voices are heard to affect change. That might be contributing to Council surveys or consultations, taking part in voting, getting involved with Parent Councils, participatory budgeting where you decide on where money should be spent and sharing in decisions made at Community Councils and Locality Partnership meetings.
“If democracy provides the environment to protect human rights and freedom of expression, then continuing to find new ways of encouraging local people to get involved in debate and deliberation, decision-making and accountability is fundamental to community empowerment and building a fairer society. Thriving democracies depend on citizens taking part and this is why the development of the Community Participation Strategy is so important.”
The strategy builds on the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the Scottish Government and COSLA joint Review of Local Governance and is informed by learnings from the pandemic.
The next stage is a consultation, with both virtual and face-to-face meetings, so that the strategy is co-designed, co-developed and co-produced with the help of North Ayrshire citizens and community partners.
Ms McPhater added: “Democratic participation and volunteering is inspired by what communities care about so we hope that the new strategy will help us to work together with communities in a shared vision of what can be improved and help us to address inequalities for some of our most vulnerable residents.
“The work we are doing also supports the council’s priority to build active and strong communities so that people can enjoy good life-long health and benefit from the local services that matter to them.”