Following up on her post about our community councils, here’s East Ren Green and Women For Independence member Laura Stevens on the importance of local democracy and gender representation:
On the 19th September I made a vow to myself to engage more with the issues on my doorstep. Attending a Community Council meeting seemed the best place to start. A Community Council (CC) is made up of residents in a council ward, who are elected as Community Councillors during local authority elections. Monthly meetings are held and are open to the public to attend and bring along any local issues affecting them. Councillors representing the ward also attend and can answer or investigate any queries raised that involved the local authority. Any planning permissions are brought before Community Councils to review and object to. They can also offer support to local campaigns, such as community land purchases. CCs are non-party political (the phrase “apolitical” is used in official documents but this acts to belittle what power CCs actually have) putting the needs of the community above any party membership or loyalty.
Scotland has one of the most unequal distributions of regional government in Europe. 32 local authorities cater for a population of just over 5 million. In Norway, there are over 434 local kommuners (effectively community councils) covering a population of just over 5 million. These bodies in Norway have more power than their Scottish counterparts by being able to gather government money to deal with local infrastructure issues such as street lighting, roadworks and social housing. The power given to these bodies is staggering when you consider that CCs in Scotland are given a paltry budget of £400 a year and are extremely restricted as to what they can spend the money on. One CC was prevented from using their budget to donate money to a local play group as it was not regarded as being “within the community’s interest.”