Social enterprise leaders welcome Scottish community empowerment proposals

Social enterprise leaders welcome Scottish community empowerment proposals
Third Sector Online, by Jenna Pudelek

Social enterprise leaders have broadly welcomed Scottish government proposals that could make it easier for communities to take over public sector buildings and land.

The Scottish government last week opened a consultation on the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill, which contains proposals to enable communities to be more involved in making decisions on local budgets and priorities, and to extend to urban areas the ‘right to buy’ scheme, which allows communities to take on unused public sector assets such as schools and health centres.

Fraser Kelly, chief executive of the umbrella body Social Enterprise Scotland, said the proposals offered "huge opportunities for Scotland’s innovative social enterprise movement".

"Direct community ownership and control of key public assets can fundamentally change and regenerate neglected parts of Scotland," he said.

"The best decisions are made at the most local level possible, and Social Enterprise Scotland will ensure that this unique opportunity to transform what we mean by ‘public ownership’ and ‘public service’ is not missed."

Angus Hardie, director of the Scottish Community Alliance, an umbrella body for community sector organisations, said there were interesting ideas, but also disappointments in the proposals.

"Broadly speaking, we are quite encouraged by the scope of the proposals," he said.

He welcomed the proposals for trying to find ways to increase the flow of public sector assets to the community such as on land owned by the Forestry Commission and the Ministry of Defence.

However, he said he was disappointed the bill did not look at reviewing the role of community councils or look at the way community planning engages with the community.

Laurence Demarco, co-founder of the Scottish social enterprise body SenScot, said the proposals had the potential to be either a "damp squib" or a "significant advance" in local democracy.

"It all comes down to whether or not the SNP administration is genuinely committed to empowering the people," he said.

Demarco welcomed the extension of the right to buy scheme into urban areas and the proposals on compulsory purchase.

"Scottish government’s traditional understanding of community empowerment is not encouraging; on an educational model – delivered by state employees – in a language inaccessible to ordinary people," he said.

"Radical empowerment means locally owned development trusts becoming major players in their local economy."