Caithness, Sutherland Ross SNP MSP Gail Ross has welcomed actions from the Scottish Government which will lead to decentralise local authority functions and budgets to a local level.
In Parliament, Ms Ross questioned Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart on what actions the Scottish Government were taking to empower community councils and community groups who felt that they were not been listened to by Councils.
The Minister responded saying that the Government were carrying out a range of activities to devolve decision making from Councils to a more local level. Mr Stewart cited legislation such as the Empowering Local Communities Act which would make a difference.
He also said that other engagements such as participatory budgets were a great example of local involvement in decision making. He also stated that the Programme for Government had set out intentions to democratise oversight to local communities and to review local government.
Speaking after Ms Ross said.
“I welcome the response from the Minister on this important issue. There is a feeling among many community councils and other groups in my constituency that they are removed from the decision making process of Highland Council. So it is great to hear about the work that is been carried out by the Scottish Government to engage with Councils to allow for a shift in decision making to a more local level.
“The Government has committed itself to a review of Local Authority functions and budgets. They will look to empower Community Councils too. This along with the Empowering Communities Act will be key in devolving powers to local communities.
“Participatory budgeting is a great tool to allow people to be involved in important decisions which will directly affect them. I would encourage greater use of this so that people can gain a greater stake in their communities.
Extract of Q and A
To ask the Scottish Government how it works with rural community councils to develop community empowerment, devolve powers locally and help reform local government. (S5O-00724)
It must always be remembered that the statutory oversight of and responsibility for community councils rests with local authorities. That said, the Government welcomes the approach of those community councils that already undertake a wide range of roles and activities for the benefit of their communities. Over recent times, the Government has been working with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Improvement Service and Edinburgh Napier University to support community councils in their role across Scotland.
In addition, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 will create opportunities for communities and community councils to enter into dialogue with public authorities about local issues and local services on their terms and, through our community choices programme, we have been supporting communities and community councils in the Highlands and across Scotland to be able to make decisions on local spending priorities.
In my constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, many communities feel that they are on the periphery of decision making by councils. Although progress has been made on participatory budgeting, many rural communities in my constituency feel that their voices are not being heard by those on the council. Does the Scottish Government have any plans to allow communities to take a more proactive approach in future?
I am pleased that Gail Ross referred to the use of participatory budgeting, which has the potential to make a real and positive contribution to communities’ involvement in decision making. I point the chamber to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s ambitious programme in Barra and the Uists, where a £500,000 budget was up for decision making by the communities there. I would like other authorities to follow suit.
We set out our intentions to decentralise local authority functions and budgets, to democratise oversight to local communities and to review local government in our programme for government, and we continue to work with local government to develop the scope and timing of that review.