What are Community Councils?
Community Councils are voluntary organisations set up by statute and run by local residents to act on behalf of their area. They are the most local tier of statutory representation in Scotland. According to the Scottish Government they are intended to bridge the gap between local authorities and communities, and help to make public bodies aware of the opinions and needs of the communities they represent and therefore play an important role in local democracy.
Their specific role can vary according to their local area’s needs. Their size, in terms of area and population, differs across the country. Many Community Councils also involve themselves in a wide range of other activities including fundraising, organising community events, undertaking environmental and educational projects and much more. Unlike in England and Wales, Scottish CCs do not have the right to raise funds by setting a precept on local taxes, and are instead dependent upon local authority funding, which is usually received for running costs only (around £400/annum)
There are currently around 1200 Community Councils in Scotland, all of which are composed of elected volunteers from the community. Due to the diverse nature of Local Authority areas where there may be areas of sparse population relative to geographical disposition, such as island communities, each local authority may set its own formula for the definition of a maximum/minimum number of community council members in any community area. For example, East Renfrewshire council has 10 Community Councils. Their formula for each Community Council is 10 members plus one extra member for every 1000 residents subject to a combined maximum of 20.
The minimum age to stand for election as a community councillor is 16 years. Qualification for membership is by residency within the specific Community Council area. Community councillors and candidates standing for election must be named on the electoral register for the Community Council area in which they reside.
Community Council legislation
Community Councils were created by the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973. The Act required local authorities to introduce Community Council schemes for their area outlining various arrangements including elections, meetings, boundaries, and finance. Local authorities have statutory oversight of Community Councils and, in consultation with their Community Councils, the freedom to tailor schemes to the particular circumstances of their area.
Local authorities and other bodies consult with Community Councils on issues affecting the community. These issues depend to a large extent on what is important to each community, however, local authorities are required to consult Community Councils on planning applications and many choose to involve them in the Community Planning process.
Our view: Community Councils are intended to bridge the gap between local authorities and communities however it is widely agreed that the effectiveness of Community Councils is variable. In some areas of Scotland Community Councils do not exist and in others elections are uncontested. There is a serious concern that Community Councils do not represent community’s views and needs. The Scottish Rural Parliament is calling for a review and reform of Community Councils in the wider context of local democratic reform.