Development Trusts Association Scotland Response

Development Trusts Association Scotland Response 
Scottish Government Consultation on the proposed Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill
19.09.12

The Development Trusts Association Scotland (DTAS) is the national organisation for development trusts in Scotland, with a membership of just under 200 community led organisations engaged in the regeneration of their communities through a combination of enterprise, community ownership and creativity. A recent survey of members, established that in 2011 DTAS members had a combined annual turnover of £39 million (of which £21 million was derived from non-grant income) and owned assets valued at £51 million. This response to the consultation draws from that collective wealth of knowledge and experience, and, in addition, the direct experience of DTAS in running both the Promoting Asset Transfer programme and our current Community Ownership Support Service (both initiatives funded by the Scottish Government).

 

DTAS welcomes both the general thrust of the Bill and the recognition given to community enterprise and community ownership as a means of empowering communities. We believe that the ownership and control of land and other assets, and the capacity to generate income streams which are independent of the state, are critical in determining the degree to which a community becomes empowered. We particularly welcome the opportunity to contribute ideas and thoughts at a relatively early stage in the development of the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill (CERB) and look forward to further engagement as the Bill progresses.

 

It is essential that the CERB is rooted in the wider policy context, and that activities such as asset transfer are not seen as discreet activities being undertaken for the sake of it. DTAS is particularly conscious of the contribution which measures within the CERB could make towards the implementation and delivery of the Scottish Government’s new Regeneration Strategy and the promotion of community-led regeneration in particular. This policy objective requires empowered communities with the skills, capacity, resources and resilience to genuinely lead regeneration processes. Delivering community-led regeneration in a challenging financial context demands a more creative use of existing resources and assets. This understanding underpins our response to the CERB consultation.

 

While regeneration is ultimately about people, it is focused on the physical places where people live. As such, this response focuses on ‘community’ as communities of place. DTAS also recognises that in general terms, community organisations can contribute to regeneration in two ways. Firstly community anchor organisations, such as development trusts, have the ability to lead regeneration processes (as described within the Scottish Government’s Regeneration Strategy). However other community organisations, often delivering a single activity, have the capacity to make important contributions within regeneration processes and towards regeneration outcomes.

 

This response is also underpinned by our understanding of community empowerment. This understanding is based on a number of first principles which we share with other Scottish community-led networks:

 

 Self-determination. Local people should be allowed to determine for themselves how their community is defined and which local organisational structure/structures is/are best suited to take forward their programme of local empowerment.

 

 Local people leading. Community empowerment best occurs when local people lead the process of taking power and resources to themselves. Any community empowerment strategy needs to encourage and support communities in this bottom-up activity.

 

 Subsidiarity. In line with much of Europe, we believe that subsidiarity is a crucial organising principle. The proposition that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralised authority capable of addressing that matter effectively. This principle should inform all aspects of public policy in Scotland.

 

DTAS recognises that the CERB development process also needs to take cognisance of a number of other policy areas which impact, or have the potential to impact, on community empowerment and community- led regeneration. In particular the recent launch of the Scottish Government’s Review of Land Reform has the potential to overlap with some of the content of the CERB, particularly around the future design and application of the community right to buy.

 

While there are many barriers which hinder the advancement of community empowerment and community-led regeneration, they do not all lend themselves to a ‘legislative fix’. In addition to legal provisions, significant cultural change within public bodies and within communities will be required. Many of the existing barriers to community empowerment relate to the organisational culture and entrenched attitudes found within public sector bodies. In order to achieve the necessary culture change, DTAS believes that the most effective catalyst is to confer communities with new, legally enforceable rights rather than seek to impose new duties on public bodies. This needs to be reinforced by unequivocal leadership and direction from the Scottish Government.

 

Scotland has experienced a huge growth in community ownership over the last 30 years or so which includes housing, land, renewables and other physical assets (see DTAS Community Ownership Baseline study). There is an increasing recognition of what can be achieved through asset transfer and community ownership and this is reflected within recent and current policy development. However, these developments require that we re-think our understanding, and develop a contemporary definition, of what we mean by ‘public ownership’. There needs to be an acceptance that there is more than one form of public ownership, and that in the right circumstances, community ownership, can provide a more attractive and sustainable stewardship of assets which have historically been held almost exclusively in large public sector organisations – many of them quangos with limited democratic accountability.

 

While the CERB has the potential to encourage and support the further development of asset transfer and community ownership, ultimately this endeavour will require not only the kind of supportive legislation and cultural change described in this response, but importantly the necessary resourcing to back up the policy. The acquisition of assets requires community organisations to be able to access the necessary capital funding and capital finance and providing this will be a major challenge in the current financial context. In trying to creatively address this challenge, the asset transfer of public sector assets at less than market value, and minimising the costs associated with the asset transfer process are practical responses which must be supported if the CERB is to result in greater community ownership. There is also a need for investment funding to enable community organisations to establish community enterprises and other income-generating activities that give long-term financial stability/sustainability.

 

Disappointingly, while the preface to the CERB recognises the crucial importance of providing capacity building support, this is not picked up in the form of a question in the consultation document. DTAS believes that we need to open up, rather than close down, a discussion about what form of capacity building will best deliver the community empowerment and community-led regeneration outcomes sought, and where any funding for community capacity building is best invested. Community capacity building increasingly requires an understanding of community enterprise, community ownership and community-led regeneration, and our experience is that this is disappointingly rare within much of existing community capacity building provision (both statutory and voluntary). Much of current practice not only lacks the necessary experience and knowledge, but often reinforces (usually unintentionally) both the lack of capacity within the community and the grant dependency of community organisations, particularly in many urban communities.

 

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