‘Community Engagement & Empowerment Redux’

Dear Community Council representatives,

It is a privilege to take on the role of Chairperson of the Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC).

I would like to thank John Tibbitt for his commitment and leadership as outgoing Chairperson. Although John has moved out of the Edinburgh, I know he is keen to remain connected to the EACC. His skills and experience are valued, and we look forwarded to engaging him in a consultant capacity, which our Articles of Association provide for.

One of my first actions as Chairperson was to participate in two Edinburgh Partnership Working Group meetings. 

From the first of these deliberations a discussion paper was produced which in part dealt with the issue of ‘Community engagement’. I have provided the following extract for your information:

“Areas for improvement/development:

  • New relationship with the voluntary sector.
  • Co-produce with voluntary sector definitions around ‘Community Anchor’ organisations, including developing a self-assessment tool and decision-making process to identify suitable candidates by shared agreement.
  • Improved ways of working with community councils.
  • Increasing community influence and involvement in decision making -
    • Unconditional devolution
    • Participatory and deliberative decision making
    • Collaborative delivery
    • Community Commissioning
  • New ways of working collaboratively with partners to better engage and explain to residents how to influence community planning.
  • Improved communications to increase/raise awareness of community planning and work of partners e.g., through use of case studies/practice examples.”

During the second Working Group meeting one participant expressed doubt on the composition of Community Councils to accurately reflect the communities they represent. Another questioned the ability of Community Council representatives to engage at a strategic level.

My initial written response was as follows:

“Picking up on comments on how representational Community Councils are of the communities they represent, I would not necessarily disagree. During my time in the Scottish Government, I served on the ‘Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament’ under the Chairmanship of Sir Neil McIntosh, which thoroughly examined the governance of Scotland's local authorities and Community Councils. The critique on the latter was one of a lack of accountability.

When I became Chairperson of Corstorphine Community Council we conducted an extensive 'Place Making Exercise' in collaboration with the City Council with our residents to determine their priorities and inform our deliberations. I recruited contributors to the exercise and immediately changed the diversity and ethnicity of the Community Council. Not all Community Councils and their members are the same and it is not reasonable to generalise.”

My points (during the meeting) were threefold:

1. Community Councils have a statutory existence, other voluntary organisations do not. There is an obligation on Councils to consult with Community Councils on Planning and Licensing, and they are frequently asked their views on other matters. They are ‘Community Anchor’ organisations. Other voluntary organisations can and do join Community Councils as associate members combining and reinforcing their impact on behalf of residents.

2. By empowering Community Councils, you will change their membership. I would argue that as their relevance as agents of positive change is increased, the representation and skill base of the membership of Community Councils will improve. This was a conclusion and recommendation from the Commission's work.

3. Community Councils can manage the Community Hubs we have discussed. We are already looking at this in my own Community Council – the examples I cited were the establishment of a Business Association and the asset transfer to community management of Westfield House.

I would like to take these thoughts to the Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC) members and solicit their views as to what a new Concordat with the City Council would ideally look like.

I have subsequently invited Paul Lawrence, Director of Place, City of Edinburgh Council, to attend the next meeting of the EACC on 25 February to listen to the views of the participating Community Councils, and he has kindly agreed.

I would ask the participants to come prepared to articulate their thoughts on effective community engagement and the level of empowerment they would like to undertake.

Some initial thoughts are:

1. Are some Community Councils too large to facilitate effective community engagement? If so, should the boundaries of community councils be redrawn?

2. Should community councils be given financial responsibility for service provision within their area (as is the case with England’s Parish Councils). If so, where should those funds be drawn? Could this be through a share of parking fine levies given the introduction of Controlled Parking Zones? 

I suggest that John Tibbitt leads a Commission to undertake a review as to what a Concordat between the City Council and Community Councils should contain.  In addition to identify options for empowerment based on best practice elsewhere. I would welcome thoughts on this.

I sincerely hope that all Edinburgh’s Community Councils and not only those that are regular attendees at EACC meetings participate in this meeting and avail themselves of the opportunity to shape the future of Community Councils in the City.

Future EACC meetings

Over the last sixteen months in my capacity as Deputy Chairperson I have enjoyed working with John, Simon Holledge, Judy Wightman, and David Bewsey in putting together a series of presentations to inform the work that Community Councils undertake across the City.

In March there will be a meeting focussing on rebuilding local business and enterprise post the COVID 19 pandemic. In April we intend to focus on the zero carbon ambitions of the City Council. This year will see Glasgow host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) on 1 to 12 November 2021. There will be a significant focus nationally on measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, and it would be incongruous if we did not consider what measures Community Councils can promote locally.

I am happy to discuss all of this and any other matters they wish to raise directly with Community Council representatives by email or Zoom call at a mutually convenient day/time.

Kind regards.

STEVE KERR

Chairperson: Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC)

EACC belongs to every Edinburgh Community Council

Its aim is to provide support, advise and give a collective voice for community councils when facing the challenges community councillors encounter on an almost daily basis. No one person is more important than any other. All community councils have a voice on the EACC!!