Opportunities in the Community Empowerment Bill
The Scottish Government have been developing the Community Empowerment Bill over the past few years and last month the Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament. This post will take you through some of the main opportunities for communities brought about by this new legislation.
Land and buildings
Assets such as land and buildings can be important focal points for communities, providing a place for the community to get together, hold events and provide services.
The Bill will give communities new powers to request that public bodies, such as local authorities, transfer their land and buildings to an appropriate community body. The community can request to either manage, lease, use or take ownership of the asset. Communities across Scotland are already doing this to great effect, but the Bill will formalise the process and ensure public bodies have to take the request seriously.
The Bill will also extend the Community Right to Buy to all communities in Scotland. This right allows communities to register an interest in land that they wish to purchase and be given a right of first refusal when it is sold. In addition, communities will have a new power to purchase land even if the owner is not willing to sell it, provided they can demonstrate that it is abandoned, neglected or causing harm to the environmental wellbeing of the community.
The Scottish Government has set a target of 1 million acres of land in community ownership by 2020 and the measures contained in this bill as well as the Land Reform Bill are expected to help deliver that target.
The Development Trusts Association Scotland has a Community Ownership Support Service to help advise communities who wish to take on land and assets.
Giving people and communities a greater say in how public services are designed and delivered can lead to improved services that are tailored to local priorities.
The Bill will require public bodies to consider requests by communities that wish to participate in a process to improve a service run by that body. This means that if a community is unhappy with the way a service is being run by the local authority they can start a process which involves them in helping to improve that service. This could also lead to the community taking over and running the service themselves, if they wish to do so.
One of the most interesting possibilities brought about in the new Bill may take a while to come into effect as further legislation is required. The Government has committed to bring forward additional legislation to give the public a greater role in local decision making. The expectation is that this will bring about more schemes such as Participatory Budgeting which gives people a real say in how local budget decisions are made.
The Bill will also bring about improvements in the provision of allotments by updating and simplifying the existing legislation. It will require local authorities to take reasonable steps to provide allotments if waiting lists exceed certain levels as well as requiring fair rents to be set and allowing tenants to sell surplus produce grown on an allotment.
When will these powers be available?
The different parts of the Bill will come into effect over the course of the next year. The regulations and guidance which accompany any piece of legislation still need to be produced and they will add the important detail about how these processes will actually work. Once these are completed, communities can start making use of the new powers to help empower themselves.
The Scottish Government has produced some FAQs which provide details of all the powers in the Community Empowerment Bill.