Strengthening Community Councils

Community Councils

Exploring how community councils can
contribute to democratic renewal in Scotland.

Andrew Paterson & Paul Nelis, SCDC
Oliver Escobar, What Works Scotland
April 2019

Imagine a democratic body that...

Acts as a bridge between citizens and public authorities.

Works at a local level, open to all citizen to attend meetings and take part in public deliberation.

Consists of people who volunteer, unpaid, to help address issues on behalf of their local community.

As with other democratic institutions, works more democratically when interest, awareness and voting turnout are higher

Enables people to engage in political decision making and current issues, without having party politics as a basis for contribution.

Has been found internationally to be sometimes more diverse than ‘higher-tier’ democratic institutions.

Is a way for people with little experience of politics to get involved.

Has, in some places, been leading the way using new ‘empowering’ legislation and democratic innovations.

The above is true for many, if not most, Community Councils in Scotland.


About this report

This report from SCDC and What Works Scotland explores how community councils can be even more relevant in Scotland’s evolving policy context, especially as public service reform continues through the Local Governance Review.

We’ve heard from more than 600 people involved in community councils to hear about the role they play in our democratic landscape - and what could change to improve how they represent local communities going forward.


Our recommendations...


CCs have the potential to be a vehicle for community empowerment and democratic renewal in Scotland and strengthening them should be considered amongst different options for improving local democracy within the Local Governance Review currently co-led by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Local Scottish Authorities.


Our findings make a strong call for reforming CCs through giving them enhanced power and increased resources while supporting them to involve and engage with their wider communities and to become more representative of diversity.


There is not necessarily a conflict or contradiction between the need for CCs to have more influence and the need for them to be more democratic and representative of diversity. If these dimensions are tackled simultaneously, they will reinforce one another


Support is needed for CCs to be more democratic and empowering. This includes training, capacity building, resources, networking and promotion. Councils should review their current support for CCs and, in collaboration with the Scottish Government, put in place resources to improve CCs' capacity to meet local needs and aspirations.


Where an appetite exists, development and support should be provided for local CC associations as a source of information and support for CCs and a regular point of contact for local authorities and other agencies.


Compensation schemes should be put in place to support community councillors with accessibility, travel, caring responsibilities, and even loss of earnings. Otherwise, the system is not genuinely open to young people, single parents, disabled people, carers, low paid workers and the self-employed, etc.


In order to make CCs more representative of diverse groups and perspectives, consideration should be given to new measures regarding CC membership, including increasing the size of CCs, widening the criteria for who can join and making use of alternative forms of democratic selection to complement elections.


The Scottish Government should conduct a marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness of CCs, demonstrating impact and increasing CC membership.


Reforms should be carefully designed to allow variance so that local needs can be met. CCs work in contrasting parts of Scotland, are at different stages and will require a flexible range of powers and support. This should vary between and within local authority areas.


Going forward

Opportunities exist for community councils in Scotland’s emerging policy landscape.

But there are challenges as well. They include issues around power, legitimacy, diversity and support.

We think community councils need to be supported to play their role in community empowerment and democratic renewal.


Supporting Communities: See where we're working

Through our Supporting Communities programme we’ve partnered up with community organisations from across the country to help build skills and ideas important to them and their communities.


Island of Hoy, Orkney

We have been working with the Island of Hoy Development Trust to help them develop their approaches to community engagement and identify new approaches to engaging with members of their small island community. With a population of less than 500 and as a non-linked Orkney isle, the people of Hoy identified a range of issues that affect community life such as transport, broadband access, recycling, and play facilities.

This year through Supporting Communities we are supporting the Trust to work with other organisations on the island, and stakeholders across Orkney, to plan how they take forward the community’s priorities, and the groups are currently exploring the potential of developing an Island Plan for Hoy.


Five Sisters Community Partnership, West Lothian

The Five Sisters is a partnership of community organisations working in West Calder and surrounding villages of Harburn, Addiewell and Polbeth. The partnership seeks to work together on shared issues, responding to priorities identified in local community action plans, as well as establish stronger and more clear lines of influence with planning structures.

We are currently working with the partnership to support them in delivering this vision and to plan for collective approaches to community engagement, capacity building and action around community aspirations.

community centre models.jpg

Ferguslie Park, Paisley

We are working with local organisations in Ferguslie Park and their partners, who have recently been involved in a wide range of community consultation and engagement that has identified community priorities and aspirations.

The partnership of organisations are exploring community-led action planning as a process for working together to take these priorities forward and to support the people of Ferguslie to develop and deliver their own community vision.


Buckie and New Elgin, Moray

We are working with local people and officers to support community involvement in the production and delivery of locality action plans in 2 areas in Moray (Buckie and New Elgin). Local steering groups have been hard at working in finding out community needs and aspirations. Once this is analysed and combined with the information/data from partners the hard work of creating the action plans will begin.


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