The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill was first introduced in Parliament by John Swinney MSP on 11 June 2014. The Bill sets out a plan for empowering all the people of Scotland. This means that it is hoped that everyone can get involved and help to make important decisions.
The policy objectives of this bill are to:
- Empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings and strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them
- Support an increase in the pace and scale of Public Service Reform by cementing the focus on achieving outcomes and improving the process of community planning.
In doing so, this Bill aims to support approaches that can contribute to improving outcomes in all aspects of people’s lives.
On Wednesday 18 February 2015 the Scottish Parliament passed two motions setting out how Stage 2 consideration of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill would proceed.
Suggested changes to the law include;
- National goals: In 2007 the Scottish Government made a plan for the kind of Scotland they wanted to see. This was called “Scotland Performs“. All public services in Scotland are working towards this plan. Services are judged on how well they change things for people and communities. The Scottish Government thinks that all future Governments should make a plan like this at least every five years. Before making the plan they must ask people what they want for Scotland. Once they have a plan they must check often to see if the goals are being met, and report on this.
- Community planning: The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that public service providers
have to set up a Community Planning Partnership in each local council area. There are 32 local council areas in Scotland. The Community Planning Partnership is made up of the local council, health, police, fire and transport services. The new law would mean that all public service providers would have to work together and with local communities to improve services.
- Communities have a say on improving public services: The Scottish Government wants to give community organisations more power to have their ideas listened to. Community organisations should be open to everyone and really speak for their community. If they think they can help to improve services they will be able to contact the service provider and make suggestions. The public service provider must talk to the community organisation about their ideas for changing the service. If the public service provider does not agree to talk to the community organisation they must explain why.
- Community right to buy: In some communities there is land that may not be put to good use and buildings that may be run down. The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that community organisations can buy this type of land or buildings so they can do something useful with them. This new law would allow that to happen even if the owner does not want to sell their land. Communities in countryside areas can already say they want to buy a particular building or piece of land. When the owner of that land or building decides to sell it they have to sell it to the community organisation if the Scottish Government agrees. The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that communities all over Scotland can do the same. They will also make the law about this easier to use.
- Taking over publicly owned land and buildings: The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that community organisations can ask to take over control of buildings or land that are not being used. The local council, government organisation or other public body will have to listen to what the community would like to do. If the community organisation’s plan is better for local people, they will be allowed to buy or rent the land or building.
- Common good property: The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that local councils have to make a list of all their common good property and let everyone see it. People will be able to tell the local council about any common good property they have missed off the list. This will make sure that the local council’s list of common good property is correct. The local council will also have to make sure that people in the community are told about any changes to any common good property. They will have to consult community councils and community groups before they sell or change the use of any common good property.
- Allotments: The new law will make local councils keep a waiting list for allotments. Local councils will also have to try to provide more allotments if too many people are on the waiting list. Local councils will have to get permission from the Scottish Government before they can sell or change the use of land used for allotments. Local councils will also have to publish an allotments report every year. They will have to say what their plans are to let people grow their own food. They will also have to make clear what people can or cannot do on their allotment.
- Business rates: The Scottish Government wants to change the law so that a local council can sometimes let some businesses pay less money. This could make more businesses want to come to the community. The money businesses save could be used to help the community. This may help businesses to do well and may be good for communities.
The Community Empowerment Bill will pass through Scottish Government and become an Act later this year (2015).