I am delighted to open this debate on the place principle. Fundamentally, it is an approach that seeks to ensure that we, as policy makers, make better decisions that have people and community at their heart and deliver positive outcomes. It explicitly recognises the importance of place in shaping opportunity for people and providing a sense of connectedness and belonging. The principle understands that the places that we live and grow up in shape our lives and influence our life chances.
There is probably little to disagree with, but, as in so many other areas of public and social policy, although the place principle sounds positive and commands respect and support, it also challenges and can test, because it seeks to help people to overcome policy silos and organisational boundaries and encourage better collaboration, resource utilisation and community participation in order to improve outcomes and tackle inequalities.
Sometimes, knocking down silos and disregarding boundaries is difficult. Better decisions and better outcomes through collaboration centred around place, however, are prizes worth working hard for. Place-based approaches and community empowerment are not new concepts, but what we have with this approach and with the agreement and support of our colleagues in the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is an opportunity to ensure that we can put people and place at the heart of better decision making, enabling more places in Scotland to flourish.
The place principle asks that all partners responsible for providing services and looking after assets in a place work and plan together to support inclusive and sustainable economic growth and create more successful places. Crucially, it recognises that local decision making and delivery, informed by the people who live and work there, are key to the social, economic and physical success of places. We agreed the place principle with COSLA, and our joint focus now is on implementing the principle to create the impetus for ambitious and effective place-based approaches right across the country. We want to see a Scotland in which everyone can play a full part in society, with empowered communities—be they town, village, city, rural, island or urban—able to shape their individual and collective futures, wherever they are across the country and whatever their size.
All of us in the chamber can add to the collective leadership required to make the place principle a reality, because we all have a role to play in improving outcomes, addressing inequalities and supporting local economies in and across our communities.
Back in the real world, communities are experiencing cuts to youth work and cuts to environmental services, roads are in a poorer condition, places are more heavily littered and fly-tipping is on the increase. In the theoretical debate about place making—very interesting though it is—will the minister reflect on the reality out there in the real world?
Back in the real world, we have the collaboration and co-operation of COSLA and a host of different partners—not forgetting, most importantly, communities themselves—who want to make the place principle a reality. We are playing catch-up with communities, who want us as decision makers to make better decisions based on place. I remind Mr Findlay that the budget and resources that the Government has given to local authorities have increased and are a fair settlement. The place principle is about making sure that we use the resources wisely and effectively. In the real world, that is what people out there expect their politicians to do.
Implementing the place principle is about asking questions across all spatial or geographical scales. What is this place for and how do people use it? As we seek the answers, we need to commit to engaging with and involving local people and communities in determining where and how we invest finite resources and make the most of our combined assets. People and communities are often challenged by multiple disadvantage. Addressing a single issue, although welcome, will never resolve the deep-rooted issues that are often interlinked and permeate many facets of people’s lives. The place principle gives a common focus and the potential, collectively, to develop preventative, sustainable solutions that enable us to tackle complex, multiple inequalities and disadvantages in a particularly effective and targeted way.
Adopting and scaling up that approach will enable us to make good on the challenge set out by Campbell Christie. He noted that, in order to deliver good public services with positive outcomes for people and communities, we must reform how we work, empower when we can, maximise the impact of the resources and be strategic in how we achieve our goal of reducing inequalities. That means working with our communities in partnership, building on their assets and not doing things to them. That is because, as we all know, when people feel that they can influence what happens in their communities and can contribute to delivering change, communities are energised to achieve huge benefits.
That requires the discipline of a more joined-up, collaborative and integrated approach to services, land and buildings; improved cross-government working; improved collaboration between communities and the public, private and third sectors; and the efficient and effective use of our collective energy and resources to make the most of their impact. The place principle supports the effective and efficient use of our collective resources by redirecting available investments and resources to where they can make a positive difference. That extends to how partners collaborate in participating with the local community.
The place principle can help spark activity and action across different sectors—transport, health and the private and third sectors—and across types of actors and unusual partners. The challenge will be in the quality of our collaboration in planning decisions and investments. If we grasp them in the right way, there are opportunities ahead to ramp up and get on and deliver the place principle and the challenge laid down by Christie.
Driving our work across Government, local government and beyond are the national outcomes set out in Scotland’s national performance framework. The framework is important because it articulates a shared vision for the type of Scotland that we all want to work towards and measures success against more than just a growing economy or gross domestic product—its measures of success are wellbeing, thriving communities and happiness.
I mentioned the need for a “preventative” approach. I am certainly not seeking to rewrite the Christie report. I totally subscribe to the Christie principles, and I think that the approach that I am outlining fits well with them and will enable us to make good on the challenge that Christie set out for us. He also made it clear that we needed to reform public services and to maximise the resources to improve outcomes for, and to empower, our communities. The place approach enables us to do all those things.
The national performance framework sets out the outcomes that we need to work towards and, with its focus on place, it provides a chance to make good on our vision. As well as setting out the direction, it permits innovation and imagination. The place principle can act as an enabler of the national performance framework locally by making it applicable to where and how people and communities live and work. It seeks to drive forward an economy that works for everyone, that provides opportunities to all and that creates sustainable and inclusive growth so that no one is left behind. In doing so, it recognises the potential and assets that exist.
The importance of building on the assets of all our places and communities to drive inclusive growth can be seen in our support for our city region and growth deals. So far, we have committed around £1.7 billion to those transformational investment programmes across Scotland, which are aimed at delivering real benefits for communities in the form of jobs and other economic opportunities.
It is important that our public services are responsive to the circumstances that are experienced by different places across the country. It is equally important that those who work to assist businesses to create and protect jobs are focused on the asset base and the economic potential of our varied local places and distinctive regions.
As well as tackling shared challenges across their regions, such as child poverty, the new multipartner regional partnerships that have been inspired by the growth deal experience are looking to identify long-term opportunities and key areas of growth. As that work progresses, the need for the place principle will become ever stronger as a way to blend our economic ambitions with our social justice ones. We cannot talk about tackling in-work poverty if we do not seek to ensure that those catalytic deals and regional partnerships enable people to access jobs with decent pay.
The place principle is about tailoring approaches to the needs and opportunities of different areas. That is why, in recognition of the different economic challenges that are faced by the south of Scotland, we are establishing south of Scotland enterprise. That new agency, which will be operational next year, will embed place-based support for businesses and communities at the centre of its approach.
When the First Minister launched our programme for government last September, we embarked on a programme of work to develop a vision for how our homes and communities should look and feel in 2040 and the options and choices for getting there. Since then, we have engaged with a wide range of housing interests on a number of themes, one of which was place. It is clear from that engagement that place-making approaches are supported strongly by a wide range of individuals and organisations.
It will be important for Government and stakeholders to consider the essence of the place principle as we develop our vision for housing to 2040 and the milestones for getting there, but we also need to make the approach real and tangible. Fort William is on the cusp of a scale of investment that is potentially transformative for residents and visitors. Building the vision for Fort William around the place principle presents a great opportunity to illustrate how aligning national and local investment, coupled with wider public sector leadership on place, along with the support of local community interests, can stimulate positive place-based outcomes for that community and the wider area. Approximately 20 key projects have been identified to be implemented in the next five to 10-year period, including transport improvements; a new hospital; a science, technology, engineering and mathematics facility; port expansion; and other cultural, commercial and tourist-related investments.
There are many other examples across the country that exemplify the practices that are inherent in the place principle. We are supporting the children’s neighbourhoods Scotland programme, which brings together people, resources and organisations to work together to improve the lives of children and young people, through the tackling child poverty fund. It builds on the learning from similar international initiatives in the Netherlands and the US. Recently, the Granton partnership agreed to adopt the place principle to help its partners to test how, collectively, they combine resources and work with the local community to plan and make decisions and investments to revitalise the local economy and community. Our focus now and in the future needs to be on learning from what works and using practical examples to illustrate how the place principle can be adopted across the country.
Members of the Scottish Parliament are uniquely positioned to support local partners and communities to take advantage of the opportunities that this approach brings. The approach represents the sensible marshalling of resources to maximise their impact instead of doing a road here or housing there and then working out how to ensure that folk will benefit from that.
As parliamentarians, we are each privileged to represent constituencies and regions across Scotland. We know the unique and diverse communities that we serve and we know the demographic, fiscal, and environmental challenges that are facing Scotland. We also know that there are too many who suffer inequality, made worse by politically motivated austerity.
Making socioeconomic decisions through the lens of place and guided by the principle of getting alongside our communities will enable better decisions, empowered communities and more impactful use of resources. It is an approach that our constituents demand that we take and it can enable us to make more progress on the ambitions of Christie and the vision that we have set out in the national performance framework. However, it is an approach that we need to scale up and I am looking forward to the views, opinions and contributions of colleagues so that we can all work together to make the place principle the way that we do business here in Scotland.
That the Parliament notes that the places where people live and grow up shape their opportunities and make them feel part of a community; agrees that local decision-making and delivery, informed by the views of the people who live and work there, are key to the social, economic and physical success of places; welcomes the cross-sectoral development of and support for the Place Principle; agrees that the Place Principle supports public, private and community sectors to develop a clear vision for services, assets and investments to maximise the benefit from their combined resources; acknowledges the partnership work of the Scottish Government and COSLA in agreeing and adopting the Place Principle, and acknowledges that everyone has a role to play in improving outcomes and addressing inequalities in and across communities.
This morning, I read the weekly briefing from Unison Scotland, my trade union, and I noted that, on this debate, it says the following:
“The place principle states ‘A more joined-up, collaborative, and participative approach to services, land and buildings, across all sectors within a place, enables better outcomes for everyone and increased opportunities for people and communities to shape their own lives.’”
It goes on to say that
“These are fine words, very fine words—indeed all they lack” are words in favour of
“the delights of motherhood” and apple pie. In other words, what is not to like about the place principle?
However, Unison then makes the point that
“Principles and budgets are however different things. It’s in the detail of the latter that the seriousness of the former is to be judged. An examination of the public realm in Scotland would surely be the starting point. That the ‘efficiencies’ and ‘improvements’ of recent years that have seen so many towns and villages lose Police Stations, libraries and public toilets as well as other” reductions in public services
“might suggest that fine words are being preached here, but not practiced.”
That is the view of Scotland’s largest public services trade union, and it is in line with our amendment. I say to the Government and to all MSPs that if they fail to recognise the impact of austerity on local services and communities, they are walking around with blinkers on when it comes to those issues.
For example, last week I was contacted by a lady from Lochgelly who has mobility problems and uses a mobility scooter. She said that although the good weather is coming in, the state of some of the pavements makes it very difficult for her to get around on her mobility scooter. That demonstrates that wellbeing, quality of life, physical and mental health, social and cultural life and sustainability are influenced by the quality and design of the places in which we live. That lady from Lochgelly is entitled to all those things. However, to move from rhetoric to the reality, I say that the need for action on the state of the pavements is being halted by cuts to council budgets. The council is struggling to fill in the potholes, never mind fix the pavements.
Let us not live in a bubble in Parliament; the reality is that in every community across Scotland, such issues exist. We cannot gloss over the impacts of austerity.
The debate is about trying to make better use of the resources and public funds that we have in order to make good on the Christie principles and on the notion of prevention. However, in a host of ways, the Labour Party has always failed to come up with anything credible to contribute on marshalling resources. The Labour Party was absent in the budget debate—granted, you were an exception. We have treated local government fairly and we are seeking to work with it to ensure that we take decisions about places such that people can feel the sense of wellbeing that probably all of us agree they should have. Does the member not accept that Labour needs to produce positive ideas about how we tackle some of the vicious issues that he has described?
The Labour manifesto “For the Many Not the Few” sets out a plan for £70 billion-odd of investment coming to Scotland over the next decade. That is the kind of investment that we need. I am happy to work with other parties. I know that the Conservative Party supports austerity, but I am happy to work with other parties to look for investment. That is the level of ambition that we need for Scotland, and that is the ambition that John McDonnell, as shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, is putting forward in that manifesto.
Let us not live in a bubble in this place. The reality is that, in every community across Scotland, problems exist with potholes, pavements and cuts to local services. We cannot gloss over the impacts of austerity: nor should we, for austerity is not an economic choice, but a political choice that is supported by politicians here. The late Martin McGuinness said:
“Austerity is devastating ... communities. The working poor, public sector workers, the disabled and the vulnerable are the hardest hit by this bankrupt and ideologically driven policy.”
The place principle is a useful framework that recognises that communities must be central to decision making, and that the most sustainable and beneficial outcomes are achieved when policy and practice integrate health, housing, environment, transport, community and spatial planning. However, let us not use such frameworks to mask what is really going on, because if we do, the only people whom we will be fooling will be ourselves—not the communities that we represent.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation and UNISON report “The Contribution Local Government Makes to our Communities and the Local Economy” is now a year old, but it is more relevant than ever. It states that changes such as cutting library and leisure centre opening hours
“may on the face of it seem an incremental change” but
“these changes can prevent some individuals in communities accessing valuable services. Poorer households are more reliant on a range of public services so feel the cumulative impacts of multiple small cuts. For those on low incomes, especially, these small changes may have a sizeable impact and present significant or outright barriers to accessing services”.
An analysis by Labour that was published in December found that there has been a £22 million reduction in spending on libraries over the past six years. According to official figures, a total of 69 libraries have closed across Scotland since 2011, including 30 in 2017, which was up from 15 in the previous year. The impact on cultural services has been far reaching, with more than £5 million having been cut from funding for museums and galleries. Almost £20 million has been cut from budgets for sports facilities, while more than £30 million has been cut from budgets for community parks and open spaces.
In Fife, many really good projects that were built around the principle of social prescribing have disappeared as the funding has dried up. The place principle will never translate into meaningful community participation if cuts are made not only to the services that people rely on but to the services that enrich their lives and make them feel part of the community.
A recent survey by Unison found that council workers identified a lack of front-line staff as being one of the biggest challenges that face Scottish local authorities. More than two thirds of those who were questioned said that local residents did not receive the help that they needed when they needed it, and 51 per cent were not confident that vulnerable people were safe and cared for.
During the passage of the Planning (Scotland) Bill, the Royal Town Planning Institute Scotland said that between 2009 and 2016, local authorities lost, on average, 23 per cent of planning staff, and that over the same period, planning services’ budgets were cut by an average of 32.5 per cent.
I accept that people genuinely want to use the place principle to make the changes that are necessary, but I say to members who are present in the chamber that if they do not recognise the impact of failed Tory austerity on communities in Scotland, they will not wake up to what needs to happen, and to the levels of investment that need to go into our country in order to ensure that we achieve the ambitions that the cabinet secretary has set out.
I move amendment S5M-17265.2, to insert at end:
“; recognises the negative impact of austerity on local services and local communities, and understands that a more joined-up, collaborative and participative approach to services requires sufficient resources to empower local people and those working in local services.”
In 2012, when I was appointed to my local council’s planning committee, I was given a publication entitled “Placemaking and design” which, I was informed, contained the good policy that would guide my decision making. The maxim that beauty is in the eye of the beholder often came to mind when I was a planning committee member. I certainly learned to look at things differently, and was supported by the information in that book and the wider information that I was given.
I also received sage advice from Robert Maguire—one of the 20th century’s leading architects—who settled in the Scottish Borders after his retirement. Over good food and wine, Bob talked to me about how detail and beauty in architecture need not be lost in the process of creating practical and cost-effective spaces. He was famous for his designs for churches and student accommodation, which were all about inspiring communities and bringing them together.
Human beings have always seen design as important, Bob would tell me. For centuries, architects claimed that their designs would reshape society through the power of their art, which is a lovely—if unsubstantiated—notion. In the 1400s, Italian Renaissance era architect Leon Battista Alberti claimed that balanced classical forms were so influential that they would compel aggressive invaders to down their arms and become civilians.
US architect Frank Lloyd Wright believed that, when done properly, architecture would save his country from corruption and turn people back to “wholesome endeavours”. The Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier claimed that the power of his designs for Villa Savoye would actually heal the sick—a claim that was so inaccurate that he avoided court only due to the commencement of world war two.
However, we know that boring buildings and large grey landscapes have been found to cause higher levels of stress. Without variety and stimulation, the human mind becomes confused and is reminded just how far out of its natural habitat it is. So, although there is no definitive answer to the question how architecture can impact society, it is widely understood and accepted that it will always serve more than a functional purpose.
The broad strokes of the place principle have a good pedigree, and they point to a considered and locally empowering approach to planning and public services. However, there are some aspects of the Scottish Government’s interpretation of the principle on which I would appreciate clarification of how the approach will work in practice.
The Scottish Government has defined “place” as being where
“people, location and resources combine to create a sense of identity and purpose”.
Places can be streets, villages, cities, regions or even whole countries. I have questions about how well such a definition will hold when placed under the weight of reality. When scarce public resources are distributed, planning will involve different places at different levels: streets, parts of towns, or whole towns. If the principle is to be of practical worth, it will have to outline how different places will interact in terms of planning and distribution of resources. It will have to determine how the needs and desires of some streets are weighed against those of others, and how those interact with the needs and desires of the whole town.
The Scottish Government states that the place principle will not be prescriptive and should be viewed as an approach to planning and resource distribution, rather than as a set of rules that should be followed to the letter.
The Improvement Service has already created a checklist for councils to consult on place-based working: I hope that it will not, in time, become just a rubric for councils to adopt as an official part of planning policy.
I support decision-making being taken at the local level, and am an ardent believer in the idea that communities themselves know what is in their best interests. In many ways, that makes me a supporter of the theory behind the place principle. I hope that we will see more clarity on how the principle will help councils to distribute resources when places have opposing or contradictory desires and needs.
Linked to that, I would like to know how the principle will support the representation of different places when council decisions are being made. I would like to avoid overreliance on the new place standard tool, and instead see a face-to-face and holistic approach to place representation that is in keeping with the values of localism and subsidiarity.
I also hope that the minister will outline how application of the place principle by councils will be monitored. Without some form of monitoring, it will be all too easy for the reasonable principles of local representation and a joined-up approach to planning to be neglected.
I am in favour of many of the values that underpin the place principle, but I want to ensure that the Scottish Government can put theory into practice and deliver a strong policy that empowers communities to choose what is right for them.
I thank the Scottish Government for bringing the topic to debate this afternoon. The Greens are happy to support the motion, and we support the place principle, although we do not support the assumptions that underpin the proposed outcome of inclusive and sustainable growth. However, I will leave that to one side for the moment.
We are rather sceptical about the vague nature of the agreement that has been struck between the Scottish Government and COSLA. Although it is no doubt worthy, it merely appears to request that the bodies responsible for delivering services and managing assets work together to enable outcomes, which is a proposition that I thought had been agreed years ago.
The motion talks about local decision making, but there is little possibility of that when there is no real local government in Scotland, compared to other countries, such as Finland, which has a similar population to Scotland, and which has 330 municipalities with real power for communities to shape the place they live in, including substantial fiscal powers to raise the finance to pay for the things that the community wishes to do.
As the McIntosh report said way back in 1999:
“It could be said that Scotland today simply does not have a system of local government in the sense in which many other countries still do. The 32 councils now existing are, in effect, what in other countries are called county councils or provinces.”
COSLA itself observed in 2013:
“Scotland is one of the most centralised countries in Europe. It is no coincidence that our European neighbours are often more successful at improving outcomes, and have much greater turn out at elections.”
I concede that, in recent years, we have seen a policy shift in community engagement across Scotland, thanks to the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, and to the Christie commission on the future delivery of public services that preceded the act. However, as Alex Rowley pointed out, it talked about preventative spend and a lot of work remains to be done on financing and accounting for preventative spend. I have seen many projects in my region that have not secured on-going funding, despite having proven that they have managed to save other agencies substantial sums of money.
I see no real prospect of this so-called place principle having the kind of impact that is envisaged in the motion. We need a completely new approach to local governance and we await with interest the outcome of the minister’s deliberations on that. Tentative steps, such as participatory budgeting and local place plans, while welcome, are timid in comparison to the kind of powers that exist at the local level in any normal European country. That is why we need, for example, to return control of local taxation to local councils, and to reverse the centralisation that was undertaken by the UK Tory Government over non-domestic rates and by the Scottish National Party Government over council tax.
Planning has already been mentioned. The Parliament has been scrutinising the Planning (Scotland) Bill and we will return to it next month. MSPs from all parties have been lodging amendments, all of which are designed to improve the places in which we live and work. It is evident that MSPs from all parties appear to agree that we need to strengthen the powers and responsibilities of communities. However, it remains the case that the planning system still appears to be massively dominated by powerful private interests and that genuine public-led development and planning is as remote a prospect as it has been for many decades.
The Greens were elected to this Parliament on a manifesto to revitalise local democracy. By adopting the place principle, we are moving in the right direction.
Yes. People come to me talking about the pressures faced by local government and the cuts that are taking place across the country. I agree—it is in a bad place. Part of the reason for that is that we have had a decade of a Government insisting on telling local government how much it can raise in tax. We want to turn the whole thing round, which is why, in budget negotiations this year, we have, I hope, started a process of revitalising local government and giving it greater fiscal freedom. It will take a long time, though.
We agree that the place principle is a useful starting point, but if we are to truly embolden local democracy, we must devolve decision making and budgets to a much more local level.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, which, judging by the contributions so far, will be fairly positive.
As every member will agree, Scotland’s communities are a rich source of energy, creativity and talent. Each of our communities is made up of people from diverse backgrounds, with different skills and experiences, and all of them have something to contribute to improving Scotland physically, socially and economically. If we work together, that will help to create the real-world experience described by Mr Findlay.
As convener of the Local Government and Communities Committee, and through my constituency casework, I know that people and communities can often feel that they are sidelined when it comes to making or contributing to local decisions. In my opinion, it is the people who live and work in a community who know what is best for that community, and they are key to improving local places when they are involved in local decision making and delivery. Indeed, that is why the Scottish Government has implemented a number of community empowerment policies. Whether it is the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, the community choices programme or work to encourage councils to use participatory budgeting, the Scottish Government recognises that people should play their full part in their local area and shape their own futures.
Central and local government have a huge role to play in encouraging communities to work together. It is through collaboration and partnership that we will realise Scotland’s full potential, improve outcomes and address inequalities in and across communities. Fundamentally, the place principle provides the collective focus to support inclusive economic growth and create places that are both successful and sustainable. As the principle lays out,
“Place is where people, location and resources combine to create a sense of identity and purpose, and is at the heart of addressing the needs and realising the full potential of communities.”
As part of that, the place principle calls on
“All those responsible for providing services and looking after assets in a place ... to work and plan together, and with local communities, to improve the lives of people, support inclusive ... growth and create more successful places.”
Research has shown that when people and communities feel empowered, there is greater participation in local democracy and increased confidence and skills among local people; more people volunteer in their communities; and there is greater satisfaction with quality of life in their neighbourhood. There can be no doubt that many challenges that affect disadvantaged communities are deep rooted and can be better solved collaboratively, than by individual partners working in isolation, or by a top-down approach, where the community is told, “This is what’s going to happen to your local area,” and does not have the appropriate buy-in at the appropriate time.
A community-led organisation in my constituency is undertaking great work, but sometimes feels powerless when it comes to local decision making. Pollokshaws community hub recently held a community consultation on the future of the Pollokshaws shopping arcade. The arcade, which is due for demolition, is at the heart of the community-led push for local regeneration. The hub held two open days where the community could look at designs for a new shopping centre and a selection of public realm examples from across the UK and beyond. The process was started by community activists who felt that the local authority, other agencies and the private sector can take singular decisions about their community, sometimes with little or no consultation with the community itself.
Glasgow City Council is, of course, doing great work to include local groups such as the Pollokshaws community hub, which has been a recipient of funding through participatory budgeting. However, through the place principle and providing a shared understanding of the place, even better collaboration and community involvement are encouraged, and that can overcome organisational or sectoral boundaries.
Place-based approaches can provide a better way of enabling local communities to influence, shape and deliver long-term solutions that will benefit communities in Pollokshaws and across Scotland. A holistic approach, as offered by the place principle, is increasingly recognised as the best way to consider issues relating to the local economy, physical infrastructure and the social aspects of place.
To sum up, the place principle provides a coherent focus for many differing agendas. I encourage all public bodies to follow the lead of the Scottish Government and COSLA and adopt the policy to bring the many ideas about services, investments, resources and assets together under one roof to help to shape a better place.
I, too, welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate.
Our happiness and wellbeing depend to a great extent on the place in which we live. We should have places where we belong and feel safe, and whose physical elements cater to our needs. After all, a place is important not only in terms of its physical layout or amenities, but in the very fact that it is where people live, socialise and meet others.
In developing places that are fit for all, it is the local authorities, which provide the services and look after local assets, that should lead the way with the principles of localism and empowering communities at the forefront of their minds, from our biggest cities to our smallest towns and villages.
In Edinburgh, we heard more last week about a 10-year plan for the city, including further tram routes to replace some bus services as well as plans for pedestrian areas and even lifts to link different parts of the city. Although those plans are in their early stages, they will no doubt generate their fair share of debate, given previous debacles in the city concerning public services. However, there is an ideal opportunity to test the place principle, including a public consultation process that has a far and deep reach into the heart of our communities. Consultation too often scratches the surface and pays lip service to the need to ask people what they think without taking that on board or producing results that are reflective of the wider population. I am sure that that is a lesson for the Parliament as much as for local authorities. I hope that the City of Edinburgh Council will make that effort before it embarks on such ambitious plans.
It is not just places that change over time; people do, too. I will reflect on the fact that people’s needs also change and that the views and needs of those people should continue to be represented. In preparing for the debate, it struck me that various groups, many of which we as members of the Scottish Parliament will have met, represent specific needs or specific groups of people in our communities.
I am pleased to have worked with Dementia Friendly Pentlands, which is a group of people who volunteer in communities in the south-west of Edinburgh. To me, those people resemble the spirit of the place principle, as their goal is to give people who live with dementia a stronger local presence by building communities that are safe, supportive, strong and resilient enough to support dementia sufferers and their carers. They not only help people to feel more included through initiatives such as the palm cafe in Balerno, they also run the community conversations project, in which people with dementia and those who look after them are asked what they think their communities can do to become more dementia friendly. Having gathered those views, they disseminate them to the local community—for example, by educating people through the dementia-friendly business scheme; carrying out environmental and signage audits in the Pentlands area; and feeding in to community transport consultation processes.
To me, that resembles exactly what the place principle is all about: a joined-up, collaborative approach to services that takes into account everyone’s needs, including those of dementia sufferers. I pay tribute to all the volunteers who work as part of Dementia Friendly Pentlands and thank them for the work that they do.
I will highlight excellent community-led work that is taking place in my constituency. It has been a privilege to support such efforts in the communities that I represent. As I have done before in the chamber, I praise the work of the Royston strategy group. I was pleased to hold a members’ business debate on the regeneration of Royston way back on 24 June 2014—that was some time ago. In that debate, members praised the community-led nature of the expected regeneration that the strategy group championed, which was to be driven through local housing associations and the Rosemount Development Trust. A major community consultation followed, and a partnership with Kevin Murray Associates led to a vision document for the community.
Many community asks still need to be progressed and delivered, but there have been successes, which it is important to put on the record in the context of the debate. Roystonhill will have a new community hub, for which £1 million will come from the Big Lottery Fund and £575,000 will come from the Scottish Government’s regeneration capital grant fund. The community will take back control of the derelict land that is known as the triangle site, for which Copperworks Housing Association has got £419,000 from the Scottish land fund.
Those key asks followed a place-based community-led consultation, and they have been delivered. It is significant that the local authority had no regeneration plans for Royston, so the community got on and designed its own plans, and now it is delivering. Surely that is a place-based community-led success, which shows what can be achieved.
If we offer a voice and hope, we must offer the prospect of delivery. We should not give false hope, which is why I wanted to give a concrete example of how success can be achieved.
In partnership with Springburn community council, we established the Springburn regeneration forum in March 2017. I pay tribute to the community council and Helen Carroll in particular for their sheer energy to improve the area. Springburn did not have a regeneration plan from the local authority; there were sizeable regeneration plans for surrounding places, such as Red Road and Cowlairs, but no attempts were being made to regenerate the town centre.
When we fast forward to today, the regeneration forum has secured about £40,000 to open a new community hub in Springburn shopping centre, run a variety of projects and worked with
Kevin Murray Associates to run two days of charrettes as part of a massive community consultation to develop Springburn’s community-led vision. I thank the Scottish Government for putting more than £20,000 into the pot of cash to make that happen; I also thank NG Homes for putting in £10,000, Glasgow City Council for putting in £10,000 and several others for giving money. I thank the shopping centre, Springburn Winter Gardens Trust and others that gave support in kind.
On 28 May, we will feed back the findings of the charrettes to the wider community. We will create expectations when our vision is fleshed out, and that challenges all of us—including the local authority, the Scottish Government and other funding partners—to find a way of delivering the vision. I am sure that we can do that. The £50 million town centre regeneration fund might be crucial in attracting much investment to Springburn.
The place principle is vital if we are to deliver a strategic community-led view of what our town centres and communities should look like. In my constituency, I have seen that happen in Royston, and I see it emerging in Springburn. As MSPs and local delivery agents, we all have a key role not in leading regeneration but in building capacity in our communities to let them lead the regeneration. We must deliver for them.
I am sure that many of us love the places that we live in; we are connected to them and to the people who live around us. Across Scotland, communities have often been fashioned around workplaces, many of which have long gone—whether they were mills, mines and steelworks, or places in the fishing and farming industries. They shaped the landscape, the infrastructure, the culture and, most notably, the people.
To the west and east of my region, the earth provided coal, shale, clay and stone. Working the land required hard graft, and it led to many people losing their life or having shortened lives. That environment still shapes the people. We have or have had infrastructure such as miners welfare clubs, working men’s institutes, libraries, football pitches, dog tracks, pigeon doocots, women’s guilds, the co-operative, traditional housing, miners rows and the like. Those were features in many of those communities, and although some of them may have gone, what has not gone is the sense of community and the pride of being from that town or village.
I love where I live; I love the communities where I work and socialise. Each village has an individual culture and its own idiosyncrasies.
All us here are in the very fortunate position that we can afford to choose where we live and set up our home, have our family or, indeed, retire to. Many people are not able to do that—in a market system, choice is often available only to those who have an income that allows them to exercise that choice. Many have to make do with what they can find—if they are lucky, they might be allocated a home by a council or housing association, or they can afford to rent privately. Others have to share a house or flat. Too many live a transient life, moving from town to town or from area to area just to keep a roof over their heads. Some live their lives on the street, in hostels or in tents of cardboard or canvas.
For people in those circumstances, parliamentary debates about place, the design of services or the urban realm and theoretical discussions about concepts of empowerment are light years away from anything that they are experiencing day to day. Sometimes in this place I think that I live in a parallel universe—I know that some people might think that I do, too. This is definitely one of those days. People out there are not stroking their chins or reading books about planning concepts or trends. Many of them are wondering where they will sleep tonight, whether they will have enough money for a hostel, how they will feed themselves and what medical support they can get for mental ill health or addiction.
Of course, I accept that quality design in relation to places where we live has a huge impact on the wellbeing of people in our communities. We all want to see clean, tidy streets, welcoming parks, high streets with bustling shops, houses that are built to last and which are warm and affordable, local services that are adequately staffed and doctors’ surgeries with appointments available, but that is not the reality for many people.
Of course, good design can create a welcoming supportive environment, impacting on wellbeing and community cohesion. That is not new; it is not rocket science. However, I say to ministers and SNP back benchers that that cannot be done on a wing and a prayer against a backdrop of year-on-year brutal cuts—in my region alone, there is £100 million of cuts to West Lothian Council. That is why I say that we live in a parallel universe.
In recent months, we have seen reports about health inequalities rising and life expectancy falling. Members need only look at the streets of this city, yards from this Parliament. Homelessness is increasing; drug deaths are at record levels. That is the harsh, cold reality of life in our towns and cities today. We will need more than principles that service providers can opt out of to tackle it. I ask the Government, when we are talking about all this nice stuff, can we address the hard facts of what people in our communities are experiencing? If we do not do that, they will look on this place as a complete irrelevance to their lives.
I welcome this debate and the dialogue on the place principle. Listening to some colleagues in the chamber, one would think that life was perfect before the SNP Government came to power in 2007. Life certainly was not perfect for many people—[
.] It was not perfect for many people in my community, or in the community that Mr Findlay represents.
The collective focus on supporting inclusive economic growth and creating places that are successful and sustainable is not just a well-intentioned target but a commonsense approach. That collaborative approach to designing the principle is welcome, but it should have happened many years ago.
Thankfully, the silo mentality of working in some parts of the public sector started to change some years ago, and that has certainly moved forward since 2007. Today, we heard the statement from Roseanna Cunningham, our Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, highlighting again the issue of the climate emergency that we face. The cabinet secretary said that the Scottish Government—the cabinet secretaries and ministers—will be looking at all current activities to examine what we need to do to help our climate. Whether it is on climate change, health and social care partnerships or the place principle, such work can only improve our country and the opportunities for our population.
The various funds that are available, such as the town centre fund, the regeneration capital grant fund, the vacant and derelict land fund, the investing in communities fund and the Scottish partnership for regeneration in urban centres fund are important in trying to bring about successful and sustainable places.
I chair the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on visual impairment, and a number of years ago Guide Dogs Scotland offered me the chance to undertake a walk with a guide dog while I was blindfolded. The walk, which took place in Greenock from Clyde Square to Cathcart Street, was an emotional and challenging activity, but it also ensured that I became more aware of the built environment in my community. After the event, when speaking to a local reporter, I was asked whether I now wanted the local authority to demolish it and build a more accessible environment. Clearly, that would not have been realistic, but what is realistic is for future investments to be undertaken collaboratively and with accessibility in mind, considering every member of our society. There is also the element of retrofitting, or improvements that can be made to the existing infrastructure in our towns, cities and rural communities. Let us face it—many carbuncles have been built over the years the length and breadth of Scotland. In the past, certainly, planning was not perfect and some of those things were put up in our communities.
In my constituency, many organisations already operate with the sense of engagement that is part of the place principle. Your Voice and Inverclyde Carers Centre are hugely important in getting that message across to the elected politicians. I can think of three other examples: the Belville Community Garden Trust at the east end of Greenock, the Inverkip Community Initiative hub and the Inverclyde Association for Mental Health, which has the Broomhill gardens and community hub. Those three projects were led by the communities and fashioned that change; they got the politicians involved to make sure that positive change happened in those communities.
There is still a journey to take, but I welcome the place principle and the sense of empowerment that it will provide to our communities.
We all agree that the place principle is a good one but that it probably needs more work in practice. As a councillor in Edinburgh, I was very aware of the silos that often existed between and within different public bodies, and I am less optimistic than Stuart McMillan that those barriers have been, and are being, broken down. I think that there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly within local authorities, to make sure that different departments are speaking to each other and to other local authority organisations and bodies.
I think the difference is that I am a pessimist and Stuart McMillan is an optimist. I fully relate to what he said.
Something that we all—in both the Scottish Government and local authorities—have to look at is the role of the third sector.
I am pleased that members from across the parties have mentioned projects in their local areas, because the place principle cannot be a matter simply for health boards, local authorities and other large organisations. Third sector organisations have a vital role to play, as they are often the ones who know what is going on and what services need to be provided in the local community.
I am concerned that the City of Edinburgh Council and other local authorities often find the third sector budget an easy one to cut. When cuts have to be made, councils often go after third sector budgets. That approach might be easy to justify in the short term, but the long-term effect on communities is devastating.
The largest implementation of the place principle in Scotland is happening through integration joint boards, which try to bring together health and social care. I think that all members support the approach, which is breaking down silos, and I was interested to hear the cabinet secretary say that the approach must be democratic, accountable and transparent. I think that we all agree that those principles should underpin any service that is provided, but I have some concerns about integration joint boards in that regard. We all want better services, and recent decisions in the Lothians that have resulted in groups that had been funded for a long time having their funding completely cut without much notice are not the way forward.
I welcome the debate and how things are moving, but we must keep in mind whether the organisations that we are talking about are democratic, accountable and transparent to the people who live locally and who need their services.
There is good news from East Ayrshire, at least, which I hope might bring a smile to the faces of some of the gloomsters in the chamber.
When I read the briefing notes for the debate, my first reaction was to think, “At long last. Well done. It is good to put people and place at the centre of everything that we do.” The place principle approach is easy to understand and can be rewarding for the people who use it. At first sight, it might appear to be one of those initiatives that appear and then gently slip off the radar, but I think that it will become an important tool in helping people to set out a vision for their place and community.
As usual, I am indebted to colleagues in East Ayrshire Council, who stepped up to the mark again and provided me with a helpful insight into the trailblazing work that is going on in East Ayrshire in support of the place principle—or placemaking, as it is referred to down there.
My friend and colleague Councillor Elena Whitham is COSLA’s spokesperson on community wellbeing and serves as the deputy leader of East Ayrshire Council. From what she and others have told me, East Ayrshire was the first council in Scotland to adopt placemaking that is led by and for the community. As far back as 2016, the council changed how its planning and economic development teams worked to incorporate the place-based approach.
The placemaking model lets people in the community take control of their priorities for improving where they live, and such an approach is at the heart of the principle that the Government has set out today. In East Ayrshire, council and community steering groups have worked together to produce a map of the community, to identify areas that need improvement and to consider how improvements might be made.
We think that the first example of that in Scotland was in the Irvine valley town of Newmilns. The approach has also been taken in Ochiltree, Catrine and neighbouring communities, and it is in progress in another 28 locations in East Ayrshire. The steering group for the approach, the Newmilns Regeneration Association, undertook essential community engagement, running workshops and public consultations to produce maps and action plans for Newmilns and Greenholm. The resulting placemaking map and action programme identified the community’s priorities for Newmilns, which were fed into the development of East Ayrshire Council’s community-led action plans.
The Newmilns placemaking plan was approved by the council in 2018, and it has since been adopted by the council as statutory supplementary guidance. Why is that important? Because, once adopted, it has now become part of the local planning policy. That is the key: all the good work that was done by local people is now very much enshrined in the local planning process.
It is a long way from the planning process that I remember, in which officials—God bless them—presented a community master plan to local people after it had been devised pretty much exclusively by them. The place principle approach now gives the local community’s vision the appropriate status and influence, and it must be taken into account by private developers and public sector organisations—and why not? I have seen the work that was carried out in Newmilns, and it is great to see the town from that perspective, setting out a vision for the creation of more civic space with cycling and walking areas; for buildings being protected and developed; for new housing spaces and places with business potential; and for improved streetscapes and environmental improvements. All of those things provide us with a more holistic view of how our communities see their future and how they want their towns and villages to develop.
I say, “Well done” to Newmilns. That is the reality in East Ayrshire, and I commend the approach to members to persuade their councils to embrace it elsewhere. East Ayrshire Council has already allocated £1.7 million from its town centre fund, using community-led regeneration as the driver, and the approach is working—it is not theoretical or pie in the sky, as some members have suggested. I look forward to placemaking being progressed right across Kilmarnock, the Irvine valley, Ayrshire and, indeed, Scotland. It really works, because local people feel that they have influence in shaping the future of their communities. I encourage members to come and see the work. They should visit Newmilns this year and take part in the local food and arts and crafts festivals on September 21 and 22, when they will be made most welcome.
In advance of today’s debate, I took the time to read the Scottish Government’s three-page factsheet that explains the place principle. The nub of it is that folk want to shape their own lives and change them for the better. We all need to find ways to ditch the silos that exist within and across services. Of course, the real test will be how we put all of this into practice and demonstrate the place principle in the real world, as others have said, by being able to point to more than anecdotal or isolated examples or projects. It needs to move from being the exception to being the norm.
Like others, I think that it is important that the Scottish Government keeps the Parliament informed of progress. It is good to see ministers leading the debate today, but there is a role for others, and there are opportunities for local government and other public sector partners to show leadership. We need to recognise that empowering communities is not a two-dimensional approach or a top-down process. We must also accept that, if we really listen to communities, it will not always be comfortable and they will challenge orthodoxy. The local governance review is particularly important in that regard, and I ask the minister, in her summing up, to update us on its progress. The review will be important in establishing the next steps for meaningful community empowerment.
Others have alluded to the need to harness and make best use of our resources, because of austerity. As a result of austerity, the debate feels partly like a necessity, but good public sector reform and community empowerment must be far more than a cost-cutting exercising—in fact, they should not be about cutting corners. We must recognise that it is the right thing and the smart thing to have sustainable public services and to mainstream the asset-based approach that has been championed by Harry Burns because it is good for people’s psychological and physical health. It is also the gateway to establishing good preventative services on the basis of what actually works for communities.
This week, we have spent much time celebrating the past 20 years of the Parliament. There is much to celebrate, but, if I had to point to one negative, it would be that the public sector reform journey should have been started far earlier.
The child poverty delivery plan “Every child, every chance” has a central focus on earnings, the cost of living and social security policy, but it also recognises the importance of a “place-based approach” to improving quality of life and actions to prevent young people who are growing up in poverty from becoming parents who, in turn, have to bring up their children in poverty. In the plan, there is a commitment to invest £2 million in the innovative children’s neighbourhoods Scotland programme, the first such neighbourhood being in Bridgeton, in Dalmarnock. There were ambitions to extend the programme, and I would be grateful if the minister—if she has time—could update us on that.
In my constituency, there are many local community organisations, such as Fauldhouse and Breich Valley Community Development Trust Ltd and West Calder and Harburn Community Development Trust, which has a fantastic vision for the old co-operative bakery building in West Calder. There are social enterprises such as Kidzeco and the school uniform bank in West Lothian, which are responding to very harsh and real community needs. In my mind, it is such organisations that are the successors to the co-operative movement, which has a proud history in West Lothian. For many years before I entered the Parliament, I was a front-line social worker, and I will never demur from the importance of investment in public services. However, over the course of my career, I have recognised that how and by whom services are delivered is as important as how much we invest in them.
I have made it clear that there is nothing in the Government’s motion that I could disagree with. However, sometimes there is a sense that the Parliament is a bit like a scene from “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, the Hans Christian Andersen book: when anybody speaks out, everybody else is in complete denial.
There is no question but that the years of austerity have impacted on communities throughout Scotland, and anybody who says otherwise is in complete denial. As an example, we know about the importance of play, but play parks are disappearing. My granddaughter—her mum tells me—spent the weekend with her pals playing in a play park, yet those parks are disappearing. Councils say that they cannot maintain the simple things in communities, such as play parks, anymore. That is the impact at a practical level.
I was out campaigning on Friday in Cowdenbeath and a lady from Quarry Court came up and spoke to me about the parking issues there and in Blackburn Drive. She told me that she has a parking space that is marked off due to her mobility issues, but that she has to be home by lunch time because, if she is not, she cannot get parked. Year after year, that community has been crying out that it needs car parking. A community planning model in which local people set out their local priorities in a community plan would work. Those people would be able to say, “That’s our priority”, and they would then be able to influence the decisions and the spend. The problem is that, if the council turns round and says, “We’ve had to slash these budgets and we haven’t got any money to put in parking places”, people’s lives are disrupted.
Angela Constance acknowledged that austerity is a key issue.
As a former councillor and council leader, community planning is not only something that I have supported in principle; I have driven the idea of community planning. If the member comes to Dunfermline, he will find one of the best local community planning partnerships in the country, and one of the reasons for its success is that, rather than being driven by council officials, it is driven by local people, with council officials being there to provide support.
I think that it was Bob Doris who talked about a charrette. The community planning partnership in Dunfermline, which I met a few weeks ago, has done a charrette; its issue now is how it will get the money to implement the result. Interestingly, that would partly involve the town centre moneys, which have been welcomed, with £4-odd million to be spent in Fife. However, I ask the cabinet secretary how local people and local communities are going to have a say on how that money is distributed. Is it just going to be a group of council officials and councillors who make those decisions?
I agree with the member that austerity is an issue. We have different political solutions in relation to that, but I agree with him on that point.
Really good community-led practice on local place existed way before community planning partnerships were doing their stuff, but does the member not welcome the fact that that approach is now being shared right across the country? It can improve communities and help us to ensure that the money that we have is spent wisely and in a way that is community led.
I do not think that there is any disagreement. I do not understand why so many SNP members seem to take offence at us highlighting the impact of austerity. Stuart McMillan was quite wrong to say that any of us had suggested that that was down to the SNP Government. I am clear about where austerity comes from, and I am clear that it is a political decision. All that I am saying is that the impact of austerity on communities hinders the community planning process, and that process is certainly something that I have supported.
Jeremy Balfour spoke about councils and what I used to call the departmentalism within them. He is right—it continues to exist. Indeed, if we look at the Scottish Government, we find that silos or departmentalism run through Government departments. It has been tackled, but it has not been wiped out.
We need to consider how we can involve communities. Campbell Christie highlighted in his report that too many public authorities were coming to the table at a point when there was a crisis and there was firefighting, if you like. He said that we needed more investment in preventative work. However, where is the preventative work with young people when we see youth clubs shutting down and community learning and development workers and youth workers being paid off at a rate at which they are not being replaced?
Where is the preventative work in our communities? Somebody mentioned a day centre for older people. Kinross Centre, which I have mentioned many times, provides lunches and exercise for older people—
Lots of good things are happening out there. Lots of project-based work is happening, but when people run out of money, that work stops. Let us be truthful and acknowledge what is happening in our communities. Once we acknowledge the problem, we can, I hope, start to address it.
This has been an interesting debate, in parts. It has certainly helped me no end. I am known for my brevity. I like plain English and I do not like Governmentspeak. The “place principle” could easily fall into that category, and initially I could make neither head nor tail of it, but I have got there, I think. The place principle is that bodies working in a particular area—for example, the great place that is East Kilbride—should work together, which makes sense. That is my take on it, but let us see what the Government says.
According to the Government, the place principle recognises that
“Place is where people, location and resources combine to create a sense of identity and purpose, and is at the heart of addressing the needs and realising the full potential of communities. Places are shaped by the way resources, services and assets are directed and used by the people who live in and invest in them.”
The principle goes on to request that
“All those responsible for providing services and looking after assets in a place need to work and plan together, and with local communities, to improve the lives of people, support inclusive and sustainable economic growth and create more successful places.”
I hope that everyone can just about follow that. It all sounds sensible, and was signed by the Scottish Government and COSLA.
That is all very well if everyone goes along with the idea that public authorities should work together. People can and do work in silos, as we have heard, and sometimes it is difficult to get them to change. It is worth trying, though, and that is why I like the fact that the principle was drawn up.
Some tools have been developed to help people along the way, and I want to talk a bit about one—the place standard tool. It is particularly relevant, given that we will soon deal with the Planning (Scotland) Bill in the chamber, in which community engagement features heavily.
The tool is there to help anyone assess and improve the quality of a place. To use it, people are given 14 questions to ask themselves; they are also asked to give ratings. The questions include the following:
“Can I easily walk and cycle around using good-quality routes?”
“Does public transport meet my needs?”
“Do traffic and parking arrangements allow people to move around safely ... ?”
“Do buildings, streets and public spaces create an attractive place that is easy to get around?”
“Can I regularly experience good-quality natural space?”
“Can I access a range of space with opportunities for play and recreation?”
“Do facilities and amenities meet my needs?”
“Is there an active local economy and the opportunity to access good-quality work?”
There are a number of other questions—I will not go through them all—and once people have been through the process, they should be able to see what the priorities are for change and improvement. It could be obvious that people need more and better green spaces, that housing is run down and that there are not enough play facilities.
We could be very cynical about this kind of stuff, but it is basically about working with people to improve their communities. Done well—done with people—it works well. A good example is a series of meetings called what’s next for Stromness?, to be held later this week, in which Orkney islanders will be asked how they would like their community to develop in the next five to 10 years. That is great. Aileen Campbell mentioned projects in Fort William and Granton, and Willie Coffey mentioned some of the great work that is going on in Ayrshire. If the invitation is still open and if he will host a visit, I would love to visit East Ayrshire.
However, the approach does not work if it is used just to pay lip service to community involvement or if certain groups are excluded. The briefing from Inclusion Scotland for the debate was particularly powerful in expressing the view that disabled people are often left out.
There have been some excellent speeches today, and I want to mention a few of them. Gordon Lindhurst mentioned dementia-friendly Pentlands.
I am pleased that the member has mentioned disabled people missing out on some of the agenda. Would he reflect on his own party’s treatment of disabled people in recent years, which has seen them excluded from many things, including having dignity and a decent income?
Neil Findlay’s contribution says it all about Labour today. It has been a doom-laden Labour Party that has turned up to a debate that should have been consensual and positive, with members highlighting local projects, as many other members have tried to do.
He spoke about the excellent Pollokshaws hub. Bob Doris, too, spoke about local projects. Jeremy Balfour expressed his frustration with the local government and third sector cuts but, across the piece, I thought that members were very positive in highlighting some of the great work that is being done in their areas.
I lodged an amendment that was not accepted by the Presiding Officer, which made me feel a bit like a Lib Dem. In my amendment, I simply urged the Government to keep us informed of how the place principle was progressing. I will just have to make that request informally. My amendment was positive and consensual, unlike Labour’s. Labour members’ complete lack of interest in the debate is evident from the number of empty seats on their side of the chamber, unlike in the rest of the chamber.
I lodged my amendment because we need to keep tabs on how effective the place principle is in practice. After all, there is no point in developing such things if people do not use them. That would just give ammunition to people who might say, “This is Government waffle,” and we would not want that.
Despite the lack of disagreement over the place principle, this has been a robust and good debate. That is as it should be, because the place principle approach is not designed to be an esoteric, beard-stroking philosophy that boils down to motherhood and apple pie. Our communities deserve much more than that—they deserve to be empowered and trusted.
The place principle approach is not designed to gloss over austerity or the daily struggles faced by people who are vulnerable or who live in poverty. Indeed, their situation is very much at the forefront of our thoughts. If someone’s day-to-day struggles involve working out how they will make ends meet, how can they possibly have the space to think about how they might feel a sense of empowerment or about any notions of a place principle? Our approach is about ensuring that we create a country and a society that enable everybody to feel the benefit of what we do and the investment that we make.
Our adoption of the place principle represents an attempt to make better use of the resources that we have, to knock down silos, to disregard organisational boundaries and to ensure that we focus on people, places and outcomes. It comes on top of the mitigation measures that the Government is having to apply to soften the blows of the welfare reforms and the acts that will take more than £3 billion out of the social security system by 2020-21. If we had all the tools and powers to look after our people and pursue our own policies without needing to use resource to mop up another Government’s mess, imagine what we could do.
It is on that premise that I want to respond to some of the points that Andy Wightman made. As everyone knows, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Parliament being reconvened, and it is a useful milestone for reflecting further on where the balance of power should lie. Although I do not share all of Mr Wightman’s analysis of local government, I share some of his concerns about how we can do more to empower our communities and the need for us to transform local democracy. We are seeking to empower our communities. Participatory budgeting, which Mr Wightman mentioned, is one of the ways in which we are doing that. That is a good start; participatory budgeting is an approach that I think should be built on, as it gives communities the chance to decide on where money should be spent and on what. However, it is just a start. We need it to grow and for people to be less risk averse in applying the principle. We will ensure that that happens by trusting our communities.
That is why, along with COSLA, we committed to the local governance review, in which we are taking a whole-system approach that involves looking across Scotland’s public services. The review deals with not just local government, but local governance. We want to ensure that measures to empower people and places that are taken in different spheres of governance are cohesive and mutually supportive.
Angela Constance asked for an update. Last year, more than 4,000 people took part in the “Democracy Matters” conversation on the future of community-level decision making. In addition, more than 40 public sector partners submitted proposals for alternative governance arrangements that could improve outcomes and drive inclusive growth in the places that they serve. Despite that variety of views, people, without exception, overwhelmingly want to see a transformation in how decision-making arrangements work in Scotland. They do not want to accept the status quo. People and communities are up for this, and we need to respond to that level of engagement. I will certainly ensure that we will keep not only Angela Constance but the whole chamber updated on the progress of that work.
Many other members made good and positive contributions. As Stuart McMillan acknowledged, the place principle continues our empowering communities agenda. It builds on our regeneration strategy, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, land reform, the Scottish land fund, the Planning (Scotland) Bill, public sector reform, rural policy and our inclusive growth policy.
The place principle and place-based approaches are supportive of a wide range of other policy agendas. For example, our public health reform agenda aims to improve public health through a whole-systems approach, focused on prevention and early intervention and creating the conditions for wellbeing in our communities.
Understandably, many members spoke about their own constituencies and the good work that is happening in them, which has been enabled by that focus on a sense of place. Willie Coffey mentioned East Ayrshire. I am glad that he did, because a huge amount of positive work is happening in East Ayrshire. The approach there has enabled better decisions: joined-up decisions through which things are done not to communities but with them, by people working alongside them.
Forby the examples that Willie Coffey cited, East Ayrshire has also benefited from the place approach through the good work of the Centrestage project. I saw another example recently at the Scottish Civic Trust awards, at which Bellsbank received recognition for the work there that has transformed that former mining community. That work happened not because the council did stuff to Bellsbank, but because it worked with the community to recognise the potential and the assets of that area. It enabled that community and that town to flourish and to become a thriving place that people are proud to say they come from.
Gordon Lindhurst spoke about Dementia Friendly Pentlands. That was a useful example as it highlighted the importance of communities of interest and reminded us that, in the pursuit of empowerment, we need not only to avoid empowering the already powerful but to be mindful of not disempowering others. I totally take on board Alex Rowley’s example of the woman with mobility problems in that respect. That underlines the point that we need to be inclusive in how we engage with people from all walks of life and all areas of interest.
Bob Doris spoke about charrettes in Springburn and that mass engagement to help provide a vision for the community, which gives people a sense of ownership about how they drive that community forward.
I am happy to accept Mr Doris’s invitation to visit Springburn.
To respond to Alex Rowley, of course austerity has impacted on our communities, but we need to be clear about where austerity has come from. People have been disappointed with some of the contributions from Labour, because it sometimes felt as though Labour members missed the fact that the fundamental owners of austerity are the Westminster Government and the Conservative Party. That is why some of the grumbling in the debate occurred.
Angela Constance asked about the children’s neighbourhood programme and the progress on new sites. Work is under way to identify new sites and of course we will keep her updated on progress.
Michelle Ballantyne made a request for the Scottish Government to monitor how councils implement the place principle. That was quite contradictory to comments that were made about the Scottish Government seeking to centralise lots of things and disempower local government. We are not planning to monitor local authorities per se, but we want to work with them to make the place principle a tangible reality.
Okay. In 2016, the “Place-based Approaches to Joint Planning, Resourcing and Delivery” report identified that the UK has had a place-based approach since the 1970s. If we are having to revitalise that approach or bring in a new one, what are we going to do to make sure that it makes a difference?
We will do that by working in partnership with our colleagues in local authorities. We will work together to take that forward and make it tangible and real.
Ultimately, regardless of people’s views in the debate and the views on the fundamental problems with a place principle, we all want a Scotland in which everyone can play a full part in society and where we have empowered communities that can shape their individual and collective futures. The place principle is the only way that we can make a success of our vision for our national performance framework and it is one of the only ways that we can try to knock down the silos that still exist, make good on the principles of Christie and progress public sector reform. However, we need to raise the debate on the issue and tackle the vicious inequality that exists in our society.
The debate has been good, and I have appreciated some of the contributions. I look forward to continuing the debate in the future to ensure that people feel that they have ownership of the places that they call home and that we give support to those areas that need it to ensure that every part of the country flourishes and has the success that it deserves.