3. To ask the Scottish Government what its position is on reorganising local government to ensure that remote and rural areas have decision making and strategic planning located at the heart of their communities. (S5O-01337)
The Scottish Government is committed to community empowerment and to supporting strong local democracy. In the programme for government, we set out our plans to work with a wide range of organisations to deliver a comprehensive review of local governance ahead of a local democracy bill later in this parliamentary session. We will ensure that listening to the voices of remote, rural and island communities is central to the review.
Having had a lot of discussion with local stakeholders in my constituency, I am concerned that there appears to be a large disparity in the effectiveness and inclusiveness of community planning partnerships in different areas. Will the Scottish Government consider issuing specific guidance to make partnerships aware of their responsibilities to be open, inclusive and welcoming to all members of the community?
We have recently introduced important changes to strengthen community planning. Since last December, community planning partnerships have been subject to new statutory duties that were introduced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and its supporting guidance. They give community planning a statutory purpose that is focused on local public services working together and with communities to improve outcomes and to tackle inequalities on what they agree are local priorities. The act and guidance place communities at the heart of community planning. For instance, they require CPP partner bodies to take all reasonable steps to enable any community body that can contribute to community planning to participate as far as that body wants.
I know that Gail Ross is passionate about the issue and about empowering communities, and I am more than willing to meet her to discuss that further.
The minister highlighted the importance of local government in planning decisions. Will he then explain the utter hypocrisy that is shown by the overturning of planning decisions that were taken at local level, such as those relating to unwanted wind farm developments and green-belt developments such as Park of Keir?
The question that Gail Ross posed was about community planning, but Mr Stewart has moved on to spatial planning. As Mr Stewart is well aware, there is a special part of the ministerial code for planning ministers, and he knows that I cannot talk about any specific case. I refer him to the letters that go out giving my decisions, so that he can see the reasoning for those decisions.