Power to the People
- How much do we really value community empowerment in Scotland
View magazine, Issue 4, Winter 2005
The concept of community empowerment, argues Stephen Maxwell, is still
entangled in the rhetoric of partnerships. In England there are signs of a
more democratic set of ideas of empowerment emerging. But are even these
ideas radical enough?
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'Community' has become one of the most deceiving words in Scotland's
political lexicon. Community planning seemed to promise that local
communities would take the lead in the planning of their own services.
Instead it has defined communities as one voice among many more powerful
voices, mainly from the public sector, in a process led by local
'Community budgeting' seemed to promise that communities would gain
control of a budget of their own to spend on their priorities. Instead it
turned out to be a process by which public authorities would disaggregate
their spending in local communities to establish the size and bias of the
overall spend: a useful ambition but not quite what seemed to be promised
by the headline.
'Community empowerment' was the most deceiving of them all. It seemed to
leave little scope for misunderstanding: communities were to be given the
power to take decisions on their own account along with a capacity to
implement them. But it turned out to mean that communities would be helped
to contribute their views on local priorities and to present them to
multi-sectoral structures, such as community planning partnerships.
Stephen Maxwell is an Associate Director of the Scottish Council for Voluntary
Organisation (SCVO). He can be contact at:
View is a quarterly policy journal showcasing thinking from Scottish civil
society. It is edited and published by SCVO. For further information contact: