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Local Control, Local Solutions

Alan Tuffs a volunteer director of the CBS Network, examines the growth of community development trusts in Scotland over the last 20 years.

New Sector Magazine,
Issue 54, February/March 2003



bulletBroader Aims
bulletVital Role
bulletPolicy Vacuum
bulletFurther Information


Over the last 10 years there has been a steady growth in the number of local communities which have established community development trusts across Scotland. The particular reasons for them being set up vary from community to community.

Sometimes there are external pressures that lead to the establishment of a trust and in others they are the logical outcomes of a community strategic planning initiative such as the Community Futures programmes in Stirling or the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

In some cases there is an urgent project that needs to be driven forward in others the generator is a strongly felt need by local people to intervene in the process of governance of their local area, most particularly the island and the crofting estate community land buyouts. (For further information on community land buyouts visit the case studies on www.caledonia.org.uk/socialland ).

The community development trusts can be seen as the direct descendants of both the community co-operatives set up with the help of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in the 1970s and 1980s and the community businesses and community enterprises of the urban and lowland areas. Indeed in a number of cases they have been established by some of the same folk who were involved in earlier community ventures. Certainly the legal framework they tend to use - democratically based companies limited by guarantee with charitable status - draws heavily on the pioneering energy of the people who developed the models for the community enterprise movement.

Broader Aims

In the main, the trusts reflect a particular geographic area rather than providing a response for a particular community of interest. As a consequence they tend to have broader aims than might have been the case earlier. Typically the trusts operate across a range of spheres, tackling social and community issues, local economic development and environmental improvements as well as specific tasks such as village centre renewal or the purchase of woodland for community use.

Many communities have a strong sense of a democratic deficit in Scotland. The idea of community development trusts has been seized on by local people as a way of turning this on its head - a chance to do things themselves rather than live with decisions made elsewhere.

do things themselves rather than live with decisions made elsewhere

In the first round of local government re-organisation in Scotland in the mid-1970s, the local burghs and counties were replaced by a three-tier structure of region, district and community councils. The second round of local government re-organisation in the mid-1990s, largely driven by the government's antipathy to Strathclyde Region, created unitary authorities. Why was there no acknowledgement of the role of community councils?

The most local of the statutory levels, the community councils, do not employ staff, raise funds, own or lease property and rarely engage in any pro-active project development. This is exactly the function of the community development trusts which are not uncommonly closely tied in to existing local structures like the community council, housing association or local business or tourist association.

Vital Role

One vital role that the community development trusts play is to act as a resource for local voluntary organisations, often providing administrative support, assistance with funding applications or with organisational structures. As the state withdraws and redefines its role, local communities are realising that they have to act themselves to improve the quality of life in their area. The trusts represent one way for this to happen through open democratic action.

One of the main issues facing the trusts is the difficulty of securing and planning for their long-term future. Increasingly they are working towards financial independence through income generating projects but the search for secure funding sources for their core activities is an uphill one, especially for that difficult second phase stage, three or four years on from establishment. And yet it is the way these core activities fill a gap in local provision that is one of the major successes of the movement.

Together with Senscot, the Association of Small Towns in Scotland (ASTIS) has been working with the Development Trusts Association (DTA) to establish a Scottish DTA. Applications for funding have been submitted to public and private sources for a three-year development programme. ASTIS has a database of some 50 interested organisations and other support networks (e.g. CBS Network and the Community Futures Programme) are in touch with many others.

Policy Vacuum

This is an important moment for the community development trusts in Scotland. Although a number of local authorities and other public agencies are actively supporting the establishment of community development trusts to drive them forward, it becomes clear that there is a policy vacuum at the centre. There is a need and indeed an opportunity for a champion in government to pick up the cause and develop a coherent policy that will enable sensible planning for the future - creating a recognised place for the community development trusts - locally owned and locally managed for the benefit of the community as a whole.

there is a policy vacuum at the centre

Further Information

The mission of New Sector magazine is to promote the principles and practice of collective enterprise, common ownership, co-operation and community control. In particular, it promotes enterprises whose governance, management and ownership are characterised by democratic and participative structures at worker, community and member levels.

New Sector is a joint venture by Co-operatives UK, Community Business Scotland Network, Wales Co-operative Centre and the Social Economy Agency of Northern Ireland.

For further information visit www.newsector.co.uk


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