Lesmahagow Jubilee Hall

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 14 January 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00, 14 January 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5098, in the name of Aileen Campbell, on save Lesmahagow's Jubilee hall. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with concern plans by South Lanarkshire Council to close and sell the Jubilee Hall in Lesmahagow; notes that this concern is shared by many members of the local community, the Community Council and various groups and users of the hall; believes that the Support the Jubilee Hall fun day, held by hall users on 31 October 2009, will further demonstrate the concern and opposition to the decision that exists locally, and considers that the hall continues to play an important function in Lesmahagow and is an important part of the town's heritage that should be preserved.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party 5:05, 14 January 2010

Many folk from Lesmahagow have been unable to get to Edinburgh today because of the snow, but they are watching the debate online.

The Jubilee hall in Lesmahagow is a fine old building that was completed around 1830 and sits proudly on a brae just off the main thoroughfare through the town. The hall is geographically and symbolically at the centre of the community, and the fight to save it has been one of the most significant local campaigns in which I have been involved since being elected in May 2007. I am proud to have the opportunity to bring the issue to the Scottish Parliament chamber today.

The issue of the role and future of community halls throughout Scotland is not unfamiliar to the chamber. Indeed, in 2006, my colleague Andrew Welsh led a members' business debate on the challenges that are faced by village community halls. Many members will be aware of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations halls for all campaign and petition to the Parliament following the 2007 election.

The points that have been made on those and other occasions about the role of community halls in general apply specifically to the situation of the Jubilee hall in Lesmahagow. Local halls provide a focus and location for all kinds of events and services that give an area its character and sense of community. Indeed, my recent wedding reception was held in a village hall, which provided a characterful backdrop to my celebrations.

The Jubilee hall is no different, and the huge range of groups and societies that use and meet in the hall include the young farmers group, the mother and toddler group, the badminton club, the drama group Class Act and the male voice choir, to name but a few.

In mid-2008, South Lanarkshire Council undertook a review of all its community facilities. As a result of that review, the council's executive committee decided to declare the Jubilee hall surplus to requirements and invest instead in the nearby Fountain hall, which has lain mothballed since before it was acquired by the council at a cost of more than £500,000.

As far as I am aware, the council's review made little or no effort to discuss with community groups in Lesmahagow and users of the Jubilee hall their requirements or their opinions about the future of facilities in their town. Many of the user groups that I have spoken to since feel that way. Given the long list of groups that currently use their local facility, I am sure that members appreciate why the community and I find the council's conclusion that the hall is surplus to requirements a bit odd.

It was at a concert by Lesmahagow's male voice choir in March 2009 that the impact of the hall's closure began to hit home. The choir genuinely feared that their performance, which had been held annually in the Jubilee hall and enhanced by its wonderful acoustics for many years, would be the last to take place in the venue. As a result of the growing sense of unease among the various user groups and the community council about the hall's future, I decided to carry out a survey of local opinion on the proposals.

The results were overwhelming in every sense of the word. Out of 2,071 surveys that were distributed, 361 were returned—a rate of more than 17 per cent, which can be considered very good for that type of exercise. Eight-five per cent of respondents said that they disagreed with the proposal to close the hall, and 86 per cent said that they did not believe that the Fountain hall was a suitable replacement.

Perhaps the most important responses to my survey were the individual comments and memories that more than 200 respondents took the time to share with me. Those testimonies demonstrated not only the affection in which the hall is currently held but the role that it has played throughout the town's history.

One respondent had memories of using the hall on various occasions stretching back over 55 years. It has been the scene of wedding receptions and anniversary celebrations, dances and parties, and sports tournaments and village shows. Some of the respondents responded with comments such as these:

"The council will leave a huge void if the closure goes ahead"; "please do not tear the heart out of our community"; "my mother and father held their wedding in the Jubilee in 1982"; "the Jube is a huge part of this village and I don't feel it is up to the council to disregard the villagers' feelings on this matter"; and

"closing the Jubilee Hall could threaten the very existence of the Male Voice Choir".

That is emotional stuff—and no wonder, because members of the community feel helpless, ignored and upset that the hall that they use and love is deemed to be surplus to requirements.

Perhaps one reason why the hall occupies such a special place in the hearts of so many people is that, although legally the hall is owned by the council, many feel that it belongs to the village. However, the Jubilee hall is different from the many community halls that are in the hands of trusts or charities in that it is owned by the local authority. That ownership is what has led to the current predicament. Although constructed in the mid-1800s, the hall was to all intents and purposes gifted to the village in the 1950s. A freedom of information disclosure to my office from South Lanarkshire Council confirms that the trustees of Lesmahagow public hall—as it was then known—gave part of the site to the district council of number 2 district of the county of Lanark on 1 January 1951, with provisions in the title and previous deeds requiring the site to be used as a public hall. Irrespective of whether those deeds are still legally enforceable, South Lanarkshire Council has a moral duty to respect what is an important part of the town's heritage.

When the town's amateur dramatics group, Class Act, brought down the final curtain of its annual pantomime show late last year, there were tears both on stage and in the hall as many realised that that could literally be the final curtain if the closure goes ahead in the next few months. The hall's stage, lighting and back-stage facilities are much valued by all the groups that use it as a performance space. There is no guarantee that viable alternatives exist. It would be a tragedy if a hall that is so well used was closed, essentially on a whim, at a time when such facilities are so badly needed and are lacking in many other parts of the country.

Indeed, in recent months, the hall has been the venue for an informal football academy that has been set up by a young local man with coaching skills who was otherwise unemployed. Ironically, he struggled to find evenings to fit in his football academy, as the hall was so busy. He is providing recreation and exercise for local young people that keeps them off the streets and keeps his own skills in top condition while he looks for more permanent work.

It is only fair to acknowledge that 13 per cent of respondents to my survey agreed with the council's proposal to close the hall. They expressed concerns about the accessibility of the hall and its current state of repair. However, I believe that neither of those problems is insurmountable. A solution is certainly well within the funds that are currently spent or budgeted for the proposed alternative facility.

My motion refers to the fun day that was organised on Hallowe'en last year. That was a superb event that provided another example of how well used and loved the hall is, and it served as an opportunity to raise further awareness among local groups about the closure plans. During the day, each of the different user groups ran a stall or activity, which was attended by families and individuals of all ages. I was delighted to spend some time talking to the folk at the event and to hear at first hand some of the stories and memories that were reflected in my survey responses.

I know that it can be difficult for other members to participate in members' business debates when the motion refers to such a local and particular issue, but I believe that the story of the Jubilee hall contains lessons for the maintenance and development of community halls throughout Scotland. I hope that the future of the hall is not settled and that South Lanarkshire Council can be persuaded to rethink its decision to close the hall. If not, I hope that, at the very least, the community will be given the opportunity to see whether it can play some role in the hall's future, whether through a community buyout or some other alternative. It would, I repeat, be a tragedy if the facility was lost, especially if the building was demolished or converted for another use beyond recognition.

The middle of a recession during a property slump is not the time to dispose of such an impressive asset, but the building is more than simply an asset. It was a gift to the council. Although the council might believe that it has the legal right to sell the building, it certainly has no moral right to do anything other than maintain the site for its original purpose: a community hall that is still at the geographic, social and cultural heart of the community that it serves.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

We move to the open debate, in which speeches should be of four minutes. In view of some of the names that appear on my screen, I should perhaps remind members that they are meant to address the motion, which is fairly specifically about Lesmahagow's Jubilee hall.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 5:13, 14 January 2010

I take part in this evening's debate in place of the local member, Karen Gillon, who is unwell and therefore unable to participate in the debate as she would have liked. She appreciates the concerns of some sections of the community.

I hope that Aileen Campbell will not be too critical if I make some technical errors about the local facilities in Lesmahagow, as my knowledge of the town is fairly superficial. I have visited Lesmahagow on only a small number of occasions—in my early adulthood, when I was a football referee who officiated at matches in the Lanarkshire league games that took place there. For that reason, I will try to be brief, which I am sure will also not disappoint Aileen Campbell and cause her no unnecessary delay in sending out her press release—if she has not already done that.

Although my knowledge of Lesmahagow itself is not extensive, my understanding of the general nature of the issue is. The decision behind the debate highlights what I consider to be the very judicious manner in which South Lanarkshire Council—and most other local authorities—generally deal with budgetary constraints. Although we would all prefer to conserve buildings that play significant roles in the life and heritage of our local communities, and which have added value in our rural communities, the financial realities of sustaining public facilities within budget allocations mean that difficult decisions must be made in the pursuit of cost effectiveness.

From the cursory knowledge that I have of the situation, it is clear to me that, although Lesmahagow might well suffer the loss of a much-loved public building, the town will benefit from significant public investment. The council's financial input will ensure that any loss of the Jubilee hall would be compensated for through the refurbishment of the Fountain building, which will have a main hall with sound and lighting equipment and a demountable stage, a multipurpose room, two other large public rooms, a fully fitted kitchen plus storage and a fully fitted bar plus storage, as well as a children's soft play area, which will be created on the floor above the Bank of Scotland offices.

Additional public facilities will also be provided when the town obtains the new-build Woodpark primary school and the new-build Milton primary school, which have completion targets of May 2010 and July 2011 respectively. Access will be provided to sizeable gym halls and dining rooms for community use. In addition, community facilities are available in the town's new high school.

I regret that Lesmahagow may be about to lose a much-loved public amenity, but it is only fair to say that South Lanarkshire Council is planning to ensure that current and future generations in the town are well catered for in the years ahead. If the debate is to be about more than giving Aileen Campbell a press release, I look forward to hearing how the minister will provide additional resources to the local authority to meet the cost of preserving the Jubilee hall or facilitating a community buyout.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat 5:16, 14 January 2010

I congratulate Aileen Campbell on securing the debate.

There are a few facilities that turn a group of buildings with people living in them into what we would recognise as a community. Schools are one such example, as they allow people to come together for the common good of the kids' education. Play parks, which host interaction not just for children but for adults of all ages, are another, as are post offices, which I hope it is now realised provide a vital anchor point for many communities.

Community hospitals provide local care where people live. If we look a little deeper into the South of Scotland region, we find that Dumfries and Galloway NHS Board's consultation includes a preferred option that would lead to the closure of five of the area's community hospitals, which could leave members of communities with great distances to cover, even though there is currently no public transport that would be suitable to allow many of those people to visit their relatives. The strength of local opposition to those national health service proposals is overwhelming.

I ask the Presiding Officer to give me time, as I am getting to my point.

Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party

I will not give you much more time, Mr Hume—come on.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I hope that members of all parties will join the campaign to save those hospitals.

Another facility that is important when it comes to defining a community is a community hall. In that respect, Lesmahagow's Jubilee hall is no different from any other community hall in the rural parts of Scotland. It provides accommodation for many activities, such as parent-and-child activities, dance, badminton, keep fit and even functions, including, I am glad to hear, wedding functions. Unfortunately, my invitation to Aileen Campbell's wedding seemed to get lost in the post—I have complained to her about that before. Although I did not make it to her wedding, I am glad that she used a local hall for the reception.

In addition, any community hall is the perfect place for drama to develop. Many of our finest actors and actresses have cut their teeth in local halls, and I am sure that we would all agree that many of our fellow MSPs show an amazing wealth of dramatic prowess, which in some cases might be due to participation in amateur dramatics in a local hall at an earlier stage of their lives.

Like Aileen Campbell, who has been extremely active with the Jubilee hall, in particular, I have a long history of supporting local halls. I was the secretary of Yarrow hall for around seven years. However, since 2007, there has been a question about how hall funding can continue. Back in the autumn of 2007, in answer to my question, Richard Lochhead, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, stated that funding would be available through the Scotland rural development fund and European LEADER funding, which is welcome and useful in many communities. However, as we know, such funds are limited and not easy to access, and there is great competition for them.

Access to funding is the key. It is well known that, under the single outcome agreement, it is the responsibility of local authorities to decide whether to keep open various facilities. There is no doubt that they are difficult decisions and that authorities must prioritise to ensure that provision is maintained at a time when there is pressure on all budgets. I accept that local government has the final decision, but central Government must acknowledge the need to keep our communities thriving. The Government must address the issue of red tape when communities and businesses apply for development funds to enable them to access available funding.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

I wonder whether the member realises that what I got back from my FOI request showed that South Lanarkshire Council had identified more than £1 million to refurbish the Fountain hall.

Photo of Jim Hume Jim Hume Liberal Democrat

I had not realised that, but I am glad to hear it. I also wish the Lesmahagow community well in their campaign to save the Jubilee hall.

It is well known that, once a community provision goes, it is very difficult for it to return. Options such as using local schools can help with provision, but they are second best; schools are primarily for education, which must be their focus. I make a plea to South Lanarkshire Council to ensure that it looks carefully at ways of not closing the Jubilee hall and of keeping that heart of the community open for business.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 5:20, 14 January 2010

I join Jim Hume and others in congratulating Aileen Campbell on securing this most important members' business debate. At first sight, and even perhaps at second sight, it may seem a little presumptuous for me to take part, because the Jubilee hall is not in my constituency. However, I have chosen to speak because I feel passionately about the need to rebuild our sense of community in Scotland. How can we do that if, as in the case of the Jubilee hall, we rip the centre out of communities?

From what Aileen Campbell and others have told me, the Jubilee hall is similar in many ways to hundreds of buildings throughout Scotland. Some are a little dilapidated and perhaps old-fashioned to our modern eyes, and in need of a lick of paint or for some diseased wood around the windows to be replaced. However, like the Jubilee hall, such buildings are the throbbing, living heart of the community and the vehicle for amateur dramatics, netball, carpet bowls, the Boys Brigade, social functions and 101 other sociable activities. However, like the Jubilee hall, such buildings all over Scotland are at risk of being closed down and replaced by inferior facilities or even none at all.

In my own constituency, Loanhead town hall, like the Jubilee hall, is over 100 years old. It was a drill hall in its early days: between 1914 and 1918, scores of soldiers marched the few yards from the hall to the railway station on the journey to France, from which many never returned. As in the Jubilee hall, local functions took place in Loanhead town hall, including the children's rehearsals for Loanhead gala day. However, it has now been closed by the council, despite a request from the Loanhead community to be allowed to take it over. Some functions could be transferred to the nearby primary school, but that was built under the private finance initiative scheme and access is restricted, which has meant that no local groups now meet there in the evenings and a pensioners club has had to pack up altogether. The council has offered far-away Penicuik town hall as an alternative venue, but that is not practical for many functions.

I live in Colinton, a suburb on the fringe of the city of Edinburgh, where the only central meeting place is the church hall—our own version of the Jubilee hall—which is used every night by community organisations. However, it is owned by the church, not the greater community. Who knows what its future will be and what financial pressures will dictate? There is an empty school that would serve well as a community centre, but, of course, it has had to be sold off to balance the council's books. Lots of community activity used to take place in the school, but, as in the case of Loanhead town hall and the Jubilee hall, those activities have dried up. A few miles way in Longstone, the much-used Saughton prison officers club also finds its coat hanging on a shoogly nail.

I am well aware of the pressures that councils such as South Lanarkshire Council are under, and the temptation to save money by disposing of buildings such as the Jubilee hall must be enormous. However, if we lose the heart of our communities, we will gradually but inevitably lose those elements of support that a community can give to those in its midst who are less fortunate. A community in which every family just looks after its own interests ceases to be a community altogether, and the result is even greater expense on social services and other services down the line.

Let us therefore protest about the closure of the Jubilee hall, Loanhead town hall and all other community centres up and down the country that face closure. We destroy that precious fabric at our peril.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 5:24, 14 January 2010

I do not wish to sound like a belated Grinch, but I have to say that I do not congratulate Aileen Campbell for introducing this evening's debate, because it should properly be taking place in the chambers of South Lanarkshire Council. The elected members of the council and the officers who provide them with information have a better overview of the situation. That is in stark contrast to Ian McKee, who failed to reflect on the fact that there is substantial investment in another facility in the locality—£1 million of investment in the Fountain hall. My colleague Michael McMahon set out some of the facilities that will be available to people.

Members' business debates should be focused on issues that are either less contentious or more within our ambit as members of the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I am interested in what Andy Kerr says. How does he explain the response to the questionnaire that was put out? A majority of people who responded were against closure of the Jubilee hall, despite the magnificent facilities that he describes at another venue.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I do not dispute that the Jubilee hall is a fine old facility that the community holds dear to its heart. I hope that, in time, the building that we are in, albeit that it is currently almost new, will have such memories and affection among the members and the public who attend it. Buildings are about the people who use them and the memories that people have of them. The fact is that we change our buildings. Whether they are hospitals, schools or anything else, they develop a life of their own through the involvement of the community. The important thing is not the bricks and mortar, but how people use facilities. Of course, things will change.

Difficult decisions are being made. I do not seek to undermine or devalue the feelings of the community for their facilities, but we must also recognise that we need to move forward and change as time progresses and as resources get tighter. We need to make tough decisions about how we see things. That applies to town halls and other facilities throughout the country, as well as to our hospitals and schools.

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

Groups that are trying to use the alternative proposed sites are finding it difficult to get used to them. There are difficulties with accessing the schools in the village and groups believe that the Fountain hall does not have the facilities—for example, a stage for the male voice choir, the young farmers' pantomimes and all the other amateur dramatic groups—that they need.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I will try to deal with Aileen Campbell's point along with Ian McKee's point about her consultation. I argue that the questions that were put in that consultation elicited a predictable response. I am more reassured that the council is undertaking a consultation exercise in the community. The council will be able to respond to that consultation in the full light of the investment that it proposes for the Fountain hall facility.

Again, I do not seek to undermine or undervalue people's concerns. I praise the community for its passion and its desire to protect the Jubilee hall, but let us also understand that, in difficult times, despite a Scottish Government budget that is growing year on year and despite the fact that the Government has reduced the share of local government expenditure year on year—

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I say to the minister that the facts are in the Scottish Parliament information centre to evidence that. However, let us not get lost in a discussion about numbers, because the debate is not about that.

Councils throughout the country have to make difficult decisions. I understand the concerns, but the council has a responsibility to ensure that it spends the hard-earned cash of people throughout South Lanarkshire on the facilities that best provide services for the future, and which support communities.

Again, I say to members that the matter is about the appropriateness of the debate within the council, which is the correct place to have the discussion. It is about the need to make decisions in difficult times and the recognition that, despite growing resources here in Scotland, local government is feeling the pinch and difficult decisions require to be made. Over the years, any new facility such as the Fountain hall, where a £1 million investment is proposed, will develop its own life, its own experiences, its own memories and its own passion in the community.

Whatever happens, I wish the community every success in whatever facilities it has available to it. I hope that they will be used to the maximum benefit of the community.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 5:28, 14 January 2010

Presiding Officer, I wondered whether you were speaking to me when you mentioned that the debate should be specifically about Lesmahagow. I will go on to explain my interest in the matter, but first I congratulate Aileen Campbell on securing the debate and allowing me to go down memory lane.

I have not moved from Glasgow to Lesmahagow or South Lanarkshire, and I did not receive one of Aileen Campbell's questionnaires. For the benefit of members and those in Lesmahagow who are, I believe, watching on video, I explain that many years ago—and I do mean many years ago—I and others from urban areas in Glasgow had the great pleasure of going to Lesmahagow and the Jubilee hall courtesy of our local churches, our Band of Hope and sometimes the Salvation Army. I do not know the village well now, but I certainly knew it well then. When I saw Aileen Campbell's motion, I rummaged through my suitcases for my old pictures of Lesmahagow Jubilee hall, which confirmed my memories of ma, pa and the bairns with their prams, the big tea urns and the huge breadboards of sandwiches and buns.

I was sad to hear about the plans to close the Jubilee hall; after all, as the motion says and as people have told me, it is an important part of the town's heritage, so I cannot understand why it cannot be saved for future generations, not just of people from Lesmahagow but of people who might visit the town, as I did so many years ago. Indeed, the fight to save the Jubilee hall might well bring in tourists.

I am not sure why this is a contentious issue—I have to say that I could not quite understand what Andy Kerr meant in his speech. Of course, I stand to be corrected, but when I tried to find out what was going on in Lesmahagow the people there told me that there had been no consultation on the proposal to close the hall. Where in South Lanarkshire Council's plans is the proposal mentioned? I certainly acknowledge that, as Aileen Campbell, Michael McMahon and Andy Kerr have made clear, this is a council issue—it is not, I should add, even a Glasgow City Council issue.

Although South Lanarkshire Council has bought the Fountain hall for £500,000 and has allocated another £1 million for refurbishment, it has itself admitted that the building is not suitable for all the events that already take place in the Jubilee hall, and it has suggested to the groups that will be without certain facilities that they can use local schools instead. As Aileen Campbell and the people to whom I have spoken have said, that cannot happen if, for example, examinations are taking place.

I have to wonder why some of the £1.5 million that is to be spent on the Fountain hall cannot be used to refurbish the Jubilee hall, which has been around for a lot longer but has better changing facilities, a stage and so on. It is one thing to tell people that the Fountain hall will have all those facilities once it is refurbished, but surely if it ain't broke, we do not need to fix it. The council should say to the community, "Right, we've spent £500,000 on this building, but we're going to have to spend another £1 million on refurbishing it. Would you rather see that £1 million spent on the Jubilee hall?" I am sure that the Jubilee hall could easily be brought up to modern-day standards with only a fraction of that money, leaving perhaps enough money to turn the Fountain hall into a facility for, say, youth groups.

Finally, have the people in Lesmahagow thought about submitting a petition to the Public Petitions Committee to allow community representatives to give evidence and bring to light issues surrounding the Jubilee hall, the Fountain hall and whatever else? I do not know the answer to that, but I am sure that Aileen Campbell will tell me after the debate. In any case, I believe that the way forward is for the people in the town to get a petition together, if they have not already done so. I am sure that Aileen Campbell and other members will give them all the advice that they need in that respect.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 5:33, 14 January 2010

I congratulate Aileen Campbell on raising the issue of the provision and development of community facilities, which can be so vital to communities throughout Scotland. I also pass on my best wishes to Karen Gillon; I hope that she gets well soon. I should also say that I admired the research that Ms Campbell carried out for the debate. She certainly displayed considerable knowledge and understanding of the past deeds of the Jubilee hall.

I agree with Andy Kerr that this is clearly a decision for South Lanarkshire Council. That is as it should be. However, I will not get drawn into commenting on Mr Kerr's other spurious contentions about local government funding because I am sure that the people in Lesmahagow who might be listening to or watching this debate on the internet want the central issue to be dealt with as seriously as possible. South Lanarkshire councillors are, however, the democratically elected people who are on the spot and have access to all the information that is needed to take such a decision.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour

I totally agree with that point, given which, does the minister agree with Sandra White that the best place to take a petition on the issue is to the Public Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament? That is an important aspect of the democratic process, but would a petition not be better taken to South Lanarkshire Council?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

If the member had waited a little, I was going to add a caveat to what I said. I noted with interest Michael McMahon's contribution to the debate. I think that it is the second time this week that I have heard him, as the Labour Party spokesperson on local government, making a bid on Government coffers. I look forward to Andy Kerr bringing those issues to us as part of the budget process.

Members' business debates are an important dimension of democratic scrutiny in Scotland. This is where I disagree with Andy Kerr. If people feel for any reason that their voices are not being heard locally, whatever form the local consultation was in this case, it is good that their MSPs can raise their concerns in the Parliament. That is what members' business is meant to be about: local issues that are important to the people in the communities that members serve.

I whole-heartedly agree with Aileen Campbell when she talks about the important role that community facilities can play in bringing people together and creating a sense of identity in our towns and villages. As other members have done, I can reminisce about the times that I spent in local halls, whether it was the scout hall, or the record hops that I attended in the local church hall, or the youth facilities that I used in other places. I know that I am giving away my age by mentioning record hops.

Our community empowerment action plan, which was launched jointly with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities last March, makes it clear that we as a Government value what communities can achieve for themselves when they are supported to work together. I am pleased that South Lanarkshire Council's single outcome agreement recognises the benefits that the voluntary sector and voluntary action can bring, including communities running services and facilities for themselves. There might be opportunities in that for the Jubilee hall people and those who support them.

The Government strongly believes in the importance of community facilities in supporting community empowerment, particularly in rural areas. We back up our belief by providing funding through rural community development grants, supporting the development of other assets such as schools—which Jim Hume dismissed perhaps a bit too lightly—and, increasingly, exploring and supporting the benefits of community asset ownership.

The rural priorities scheme under the rural development programme has invested about £5.5 million to develop rural community facilities, including village halls. In Coalburn in South Lanarkshire, which is only 3 miles from Lesmahagow, we have committed nearly £40,000 to the Coalburn Miners Welfare Charitable Society for the upgrade and improvement of its community centre, which provides facilities for nearly 50 community groups each week. Groups from mothers and toddlers to special needs and pensioner groups will benefit from improved access through a new porch and access ramps. I admired the amount of detail that Michael McMahon gave on the new facilities that will be provided in Lesmahagow. For a man who did not know much about the issue, he demonstrated a great deal of knowledge.

In addition, through the LEADER rural community programme, we have made available £57 million in the period 2007 to 2013 to be directed at sustainable community-based projects, including rural community facilities. The aim is to increase the capacity of rural communities and business networks to build knowledge and skills, and to encourage innovation. To date, more than £2 million has been invested in 600 projects and a further £15 million has been committed to local community projects throughout Scotland. That demonstrates that, through those schemes, whether LEADER or the Scottish rural development programme, local organisations have the opportunity to access resources to make a difference for the communities that they serve.

We believe in the potential benefits of community ownership of assets, although care is needed because some facilities will be liabilities rather than assets and not every community group has the necessary desire or skills to own a local hall or building. We are investing £0.25 million over two years in the Development Trusts Association Scotland to ensure that we share good practice and support local authorities and community groups to understand the costs and benefits of community asset ownership.

If it will help, I am happy to direct Scottish Government officials to speak with people from South Lanarkshire Council or community groups about the work that DTAS is doing on our behalf. The work is in the early stages and there are plans for a national seminar in the spring. I am happy for representatives from South Lanarkshire to attend that event. Make no mistake: when community ownership of assets is done right, it can have remarkable results, and the Government is happy with that approach.

I understand that officials in South Lanarkshire Council are committed to continuing to speak with local groups about the provision of community facilities in Lesmahagow. I welcome that commitment and strongly encourage the council to think creatively and boldly about the future of the Jubilee hall and how the community might be involved in shaping it. Opportunities have come up through the Big Lottery Fund growing community assets programme. That fund is now closed, but the Government is involved in discussions about possible opportunities for a successor fund, which might yet provide opportunities to access funds to help restore halls such as the Jubilee.

I thank Aileen Campbell for giving us the opportunity to debate this important topic. I wish all the people of Lesmahagow best wishes in their on-going efforts to help their community thrive.

Meeting closed at 17:41.