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Power to the People
How much do we really value community empowerment in Scotland

Stephen Maxwell
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 authorities.

'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.

Further Information:

Stephen Maxwell is an Associate Director of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation (SCVO). He can be contact at: stephen.maxwell@scvo.org.uk

View is a quarterly policy journal showcasing thinking from Scottish civil society. It is edited and published by SCVO. For further information contact: view@scvo.org.uk


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