People from deprived backgrounds left out of community empowerment action, says Holyrood Committee

A Scottish Parliament Committee has criticised the implementation of the 2015 Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act saying that not enough has been done to empower people from deprived backgrounds to take action in their communities.

People from deprived backgrounds left out of community empowerment action, says Holyrood Committee

James Dornan MSP

The report by the Local Government and Communities Committee reflected on the impact of two key areas of the act aimed at empowering communities: participation and asset transfer requests. They concluded there is clearly work to be done in raising awareness of both, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

The Committee say a lack of resources and support at grassroots level is hindering progress in empowering communities, with the Scottish Household Survey revealing only 18% of Scots feel they can influence decisions affecting their local area.

They say more must be done to identify how to overcome barriers to engagement and have called on the Scottish Government to work with public bodies and COSLA to help communities use their rights to challenge and influence decisions and services.

With only just over 60 participation requests made since 2017, the Committee says it doubts whether, as suggested by one local authority, that indicates high levels of satisfaction with local services and that local communities feel more empowered.

They say that institutional views amongst councils that participation requests denote “failure” are holding back progress and need to change, and have recommended that the Scottish Government introduces an appeals mechanism to improve the process.

The Committee welcome the generally positive view stakeholders have of asset transfer requests. But they express concern with evidence that these requests can run into a wall, when the asset belongs to, or is operated by, an Arms-Length External Organisation (ALEO) The report asks for clarity from councils and ALEOs to agree who owns which assets, and to make this information accessible to help improve the process.

Speaking as the report was published, James Dornan MSP, local government and communities committee convener, said: “Our extensive engagement work has made it clear to us that community wellbeing is synonymous with community empowerment. Engaged and empowered communities are essential if people are to feel they have a real say in how their community operates.

“We’ve heard a number of really inspiring stories showing community empowerment driving positive change but it’s clear more must be done to ensure communities across Scotland, and particularly those from disadvantaged areas, can be a part of this.

“The Committee is concerned by evidence we have received of bodies coming across as indifferent or even hostile to the rights communities have to influence decisions.

“Knowledge is power and there is no doubt more must be done to raise awareness of participation requests and asset transfer requests which can give communities the tools to feel empowered.”

He added: “We appreciate that councils have faced unprecedented challenges this year as a result of the pandemic, but we are disappointed that local government did not play a bigger role in our inquiry.

“We are also very concerned by the low level of compliance from local authorities and public bodies with the formal reporting requirements outlined in the 2015 Act and this must be rectified so we can monitor the levels of community engagement.”

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