Tollcross Community Council Response:    7 March 2024

Consultation on Community Council Scheme and proposal to amend boundaries. Phase 2

  1. General Observations

There is a lot in the scheme that is very useful to Community Councils (CCs), especially when being set up.

The language of the Scheme gives the impression of the Council micromanaging community councils rather than it being a two-way process of negotiation. Examples of this include lots of instructions about the order of business at meetings, the amount of money to be held in accounts and a constant flow of documents to the Council (about 1300 from all Edinburgh’s CCs with a financial penalty for non-compliance, not mentioned in Government guidance).

It is clear that much of this wording comes directly from a series of documents from the Scottish Government to councils and so councils are constrained by this. However, changes such as demanding the accounts 3 months earlier and demanding a community engagement report, both with financial penalties for not complying, are not following Scottish Government guidance and appear dictatorial. Language is important if we are to feel that we are on the same team with common goals.

  1. Specific feedback on the proposed scheme 

    a) Nominated members of local interest groups 

    Quoting from the proposed Scheme:

    Registration for community council purposes will be accepted from any local interest group provided it complies with the following criteria:

    • The organisation must be a voluntary group that has been in operation for at least 12 months prior to the notice of election.
    • The organisation must be a properly constituted group with a publicly available constitution, the objects of which explains how it provides services for public benefit not restricted to its members.
    • The organisation must have a committee that (after the first year) is elected at an AGM and has a minimum of three members.

    The Council will determine the eligibility of the groups seeking registration. Where registration is refused, reasons will be provided.

    Before an election local interest groups must reapply to be registered as approved groups.

    As far as we can tell, The Scottish Government has not written the inclusion of local interest groups into the rules sent down to councils. It is a useful addition to the council’s scheme. However, it is overly prescriptive and very onerous for local interest groups. Furthermore, it gives councils total control over which interest groups can be represented at CCs. This amounts to CEC being in control of interest groups and determining how they operate. There are any number of reasons why an interest group might be important to a CC and might not fit all the criteria. Furthermore, the process of registration and re-registration is onerous and may inhibit interest groups from registering and re-registering with the CEC.

    We used to have church organisations and large residents’ associations and Tollcross Trader’s Association as representing organisations but we cannot put them through this onerous process when exact criteria are not met.

    We believe that CCs should have some autonomy when selecting local interest groups and a less onerous system should be used.

    The change to para 15 in this section, to preclude an alternative member of the local interest group from voting without the permission of CEC seems rather controlling and unnecessary.

    b) Public Engagement

    One drawback of the proposed scheme is the high degree to which it suggests consultation with the public can take place.

    Here is an extract from the Scottish Government document which the Council Scheme uses as the basis for its content.

    Consulting with your local area

    Community Councils need to make every effort to communicate with all the residents living in the community. (my emphasis) There are two parts to this duty: firstly to seek their views; and secondly to keep them informed of the Community Council’s work as their elected representatives. This is a positive duty. Fulfilling it will immensely improve the service you give to the community. Here are some examples:

    Ensure your local authority is giving you the support you need to fulfil your duty through regular engagement with your Community Council Liaison Officer (CCLO)

    Include main contact details in all correspondence issued from your Community Council. Always invite contact and encourage feedback.

    Whenever possible, restate the ways constituents can contact you. Make this as easy as possible for them by offering multiple contact routes e.g. email, telephone, social media or a suggestion box in a key community location.

    Create a website or ensure your details are included on the Local Authority website. List contact details and show the date, time and venue of meetings, and the agenda. Include the minutes of all previous meetings.

    Look into using social media channels to publicise the work of the Community Council and to share information about upcoming meetings. You can use the #FollowMe social media guide for Community Councils to help you decide which channel is best for you.

    Collate a database of e-mail addresses for constituents. Ask for permission to send them e-mail bulletins seeking their views and reporting your actions.

    Display Community Council contact details in all public buildings. Include information on what you do and how you can help. Secure space in any local newsletters, including local authority publications. You might want to do this collectively among all the Community Councils in your area. Invite and encourage the local press to attend meetings. Issue press releases on matters of local interest and communicate with the local media through your social media channels. Consider appointing an individual to handle social media channels and media relations.

    Whenever you have a change of office bearers, let the local press know and contact any local organisations you have worked with. This communication should indicate the new bearers and reinforce the status, work and approachability of your Community Council. Do the same after every Community Council election. Good Practice Guidance

    Hold surgeries for the community in public venues. For example, these could be community premises, local supermarkets or libraries. Advertise these in the local press and online well in advance and again closer to the time. Experiment with times, days and venues, and with the format of the surgery. Always have at least two community councillors present.

    Create and issue surveys at least once per year. Ask questions about the communitys perceptions of you, of their community and their quality of life. Ask what you can do to improve the community. Find out what their priorities are. Be sure to include questions on the issues that will be important to your constituents in the future even if the details are not fully known. These surveys can be issued via email, social media and your website, as well as via printed papers in libraries or community centres in your area. Consider shorter, faster surveys on individual issues of significant local importance as they arise. The responses will be very important in helping you demonstrate how you speak for the community.

    Hold public meetings (in the true sense all meetings of Community Councils are by law open to the public) whenever there is an issue of sufficient local importance. Monitor the attendance in terms of whether it representatively reflects the community – age, sex, area of residence, overall numbers and so on.

    Place suggestion boxes in prominent, busy local venues, as well as inviting online suggestions via email, social media and the website. Always respond to comments left when the person gives contact details. Regularly report comments at full Community Council meetings.

    If possible, deliver flyers or leaflets door to door. This is also an excellent way for community councillors to get to know their constituents, and vice versa. If there is a local community radio station, consider using it to promote the work of the Community Council. Word of mouth and informal personal contact is a common practice and has its place. However, it is the least objective method of discovering the communitys views and should not be relied upon wholly when the Community Council make important decisions.

    Use Plain English and explain any professional terminology or “jargon” used in all Community Council publications and correspondence to ensure that information is easy to understand.

    We did a survey a few years ago and 60 consultations were requested within a year, mostly from CEC. In one week recently, requested consultations were: Libraries strategy engagement prior to consultation, World Heritage Management document and action plans, CC scheme and boundaries, comments on the Bungydome in Princes St. gardens and four other events there, and representation at the Meadows Festival.  The production of a single leaflet and its delivery, cost virtually the entire annual grant.

    The Scottish Government document states the following: Ensure your local authority is giving you the support you need to fulfil your duty through regular engagement with your Community Council Liaison Officer (CCLO).

    We use notice boards, an interactive website and liaise with groups like residents’ associations. However, the scale of requested consultations is beyond our human and financial resources. The idea that 9 community councillors can consult 10,000 residents on 60 issues with a budget of £800 is, to say the least, fanciful.

    It is clear that resources and aspirations are at odds.

    In some cases, consultations, for which the council is responsible, are assumed to be being undertaken by CCs which do not have the resources of councils.

    There would need to be serious discussions with CEC about resources if this level of engagement was to be achieved.

    Paul Beswick: Tollcross CC