Community Councils are unfunded and community council members unpaid volunteers, often retired.
A substantial number of rural community councils struggle to get even the minimum of nominees to act as Community Council members. Making up the minimum number of nominees – never mind enough for an election – means calling in favours, begging and arm twisting.
There are standout examples of highly successful community councls – often almost wholly dependent on a couple of highly skilled, highly motivated and assertive retired high fliers with a sense of public duty.
Such people are rare and, to be brutal, they are on a timeline which, for a variety of obvious reasons, will see them unable to carry on indefinitely. At that point, such community councils find it all but impossible to get others prepared and able to step up to take over.
This situation describes many community council as they are today, without given administrative and management responsibilities.
An SNP spokesperson has said that the party’s plans ‘to hand more powers over to local communities are the most radical seen in Scotland for many years’.
These ‘powers’ [ie responsibilities] are said to include matters like ‘looking after’ [ie maintaining] public parks and sports facilities; and possibly managing housing schemes, council properties and organising clearing services.
There is not one word of payment for accepting these ‘powers’ [ie responsibilities]
The financial picture is that John Swinney, Finance Secretary, was personally responsible in 2012 for withdrawing the modest government grant that had supported the Scottish Association of Community Councils .
This left the association unable to continue and it was wound up on 30th April in that year.
At that point, its then President Vincent Waters, described community councils as being ‘in a dangerous place, with a dwindling and ageing membership’, saying that such people are ‘dying off and the expertise and experience is dying with them’.
This SNP enforced closure of the Association of Scottish Community Councils was widely regarded as leaving community councils with no forum where they can share ideas and best practice.
Community Councils currently get a very modest annual grant from their local councils to cover their administrative costs – largely phone, postal and stationery costs incurred by the volunteer Secretary and Treasurer.
This proposed move would appear to be an SNP wheeze to save money and cut council grants even further, under the guise of the promotion of local democracy – by handing over ‘powers’, which would be obligated and quite demanding responsibilities, to the unpaid volunteers who are members of local community councils.
Trying to pay for extravagant governmental spending promises by trading on the goodwill of ageing volunteers, enabling the cutting of council responsibilities and thereby staffing costs – is an act of the greatest exploitive irresponsibility; and an enterprise that will broadly fail, with chaotic consequences.
The equivalent of postcode lottery will apply.
Communities temporarily fortunate enough to have a group of able, confident, articulate and committed volunteers on their community councils will manage somehow; and local services will, for the time being, continue.
Others, struggling to get anyone even to sit on their community councils [never mind accepting the burden of an unpaid working post] will see a marked degradation of the local facilities and services they have been asked to take responsibility for managing.
The sine qua non of public services of all kinds is reliability.
Asking community council volunteers to undertake the management of such responsibilities simply cannot guarantee service reliability – or even continuity.