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The Community Empowerment Bill - glass half full or glass half empty?

Posted by Francis Stuart Research and Policy Adviser for UK Poverty in Oxfam Scotland

5th Feb 2015

Community Empowerment bill

Following a Scottish Parliament debate on the Community Empowerment Bill stage 1 report, Oxfam Scotland's Research and Policy Adviser Francis Stuart takes a closer look at how the Bill could be improved

Admittedly the Community Empowerment Bill has a great title. 'Community Empowerment'...who could be against that?

The actual content is more of a 'glass half full/glass half empty' affair.

The Government's intention of the Bill is twofold. It aims to empower community bodies through the ownership of land and buildings, strengthening their voices in the decisions that matter to them; and to 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.

While there is much to be supportive of, Oxfam does have concerns that the legislation will only be accessible to well-resourced communities with the capacity to navigate the processes contained in the Bill. This risks accentuating rather than reducing inequalities.

That is why, working with others including Poverty Alliance and Barnardo's, we've come up with a five point plan to strengthen the Bill.

  • A greater focus on poverty and inequality.
  • Placing the national standards for community engagement on a statutory footing.
  • Requiring Community Planning Partnerships to develop their plans through a genuinely participative process that reaches out to the most deprived communities.
  • Strengthening participation requests through an effective appeals procedure.
  • Ensuring participatory budgeting is taken forward across Scotland.

Encouragingly the Local Government and Regeneration Committee Stage 1 report reflects some of this. There is welcome recognition that the Bill needs to go further to support our most disadvantaged communities and the Committee suggest Community Planning Partnerships should adhere to the national standards for community engagement.

This is to be welcomed. We now need to see more focus on how practices such as participatory budgeting can be taken forward across Scotland. From Brazil to Govanhill, participatory budgeting has demonstrated tremendous benefit to the poorest people in society.

As the Bill completes its passage through Parliament, let's hope it is strengthened so that it genuinely empowers every community in Scotland.

Blog post written by Francis Stuart

Research and Policy Adviser for UK Poverty in Oxfam Scotland

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