We know that when communities feel empowered, there is:
greater participation in local democracy
increased confidence and skills among local people
more people volunteering in their communities
greater satisfaction with quality of life in the neighbourhood
The community empowerment agenda in Scotland has developed and expanded in recent years.
This development has been driven by the energy and enthusiasm of local people, who have harnessed opportunity and worked hard to make their voices heard and influence felt.
The backdrop to much of this activity has been the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act through the powers it brought to communities and the duties placed on local authorities.
The Act 2015 came in force in July 2015 and empowers communities to take action in their local areas through the supporting ownership or control of land and buildings, and by strengthening their voices in decisions about public services.
There are 11 parts to the Act and some detail on each of these is set out below.
Part 1 – National Outcomes
Part 1 of the Act relates to Scotland's National Outcomes. These 11 outcomes help set out the vision and values for Scotland's future. Ay organisations that carry out public functions must have regard to the outcomes when carrying out their work.
Part 1 of the Act requires the Scottish Government to continue the approach of setting national outcomes for Scotland, to guide the work of public authorities.
The Act sets out requirements for the government to consult people who represent communities in Scotland, and the Scottish Parliament in the preparation of the outcomes. They must also have regard to reducing inequalities and review the outcomes every 5 years.
Part 2 – Community Planning
Community Planning is a process which helps public agencies to work together and with the community to plan and deliver better services which make a real difference to people's lives. It was introduced by the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.
The Community Empowerment Act lists all the public authorities which take part in community planning and places the duties on them. These authorities form a Community Planning Partnership (CPP) for each local authority area.
Part 3 - Participation Requests
Participation requests allow a community body to enter into dialogue with public authorities about local issues and local services on their terms.
Where a community body believes it could help to improve an outcome which is delivered by a public service, it is able to request to part in a process with the public service authority to improve that outcome.
The public body must agree to the request and set up a process unless there are reasonable grounds for refusal. At the end of the process the public body publishes a report on the outcomes and how the community body contributed to any improvements.
Part 4 - Community rights to buy land
The Community Empowerment Act makes changes to the rights of communities to buy land that were first established through the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.
It extends the community right to buy land to all of Scotland, urban and rural. A local community can register an interest in the land, then if the land comes up for sale they have first option to purchase it. It improves a range of issues on the crofting community right to buy.
It also allows communities to buy abandoned or neglected land where the owner is not willing to sell. This can help communities to take action to address potential adverse, harmful effects on their wellbeing and improve their local environment.
Part 5 - Asset Transfer
The Act provides communities with a right to request to purchase, lease, manage or use land and buildings belonging to local authorities, public bodies or the Scottish Government.
This supports communities to take an important and active role in ensuring the sustainable and efficient use of property that benefits the wellbeing of local people and the environment.
Part 7 - Football clubs
Sport, and football in particular, plays an important role in many of Scotland's communities. The Act provides Scottish Ministers with powers to support the involvement of fans in decision making in local football clubs.
Part 8 - Common Good
Common Good property is an asset that is owned by a local authority and held for the benefit of the community at large. This can include, parks, land and monuments and often has a strong historical or social value to local people.
The Act requires local authorities to hold and publish a register of all common good property that they hold and to engage with the community on the register and any proposed changes to the ownership or use of the property.
Part 9 - Allotments
Allotments are fantastic opportunities for individuals and communities to engage with growing and nature, to build social connections, get active and improve metal wellbeing, as well as being a satisfying and productive source of locally grown food. The Act simplifies legislation on allotments and includes a requirement for local authorities to develop a food growing strategy for their area, and to manage waiting lists for allotments.
Part 10 - Participation in public decision-making
Part 10 provides powers to allow the government to require public authorities to promote and facilitate the participation local people of in the local decisions making and action.
Regulations to implement this power are not yet in force.
Part 11 - Non-domestic rates
Local councils have important knowledge of communities and the opportunities they have to help local areas thrive. The Act gives councils power to create and fund their own localised business rates relief schemes, allowing councils to better reflect local needs and support communities.