Every community in Scotland is unique. But whether a community is in Gorgie or the Grange, Sighthill or Stockbridge, the common factor is the people who live in those communities – who make up those communities – should be in the driving seat for improving them. No-one knows the local needs and priorities better.
This week, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill marks a major step in our ongoing drive to decentralise decisions and ensure that all of Scotland’s public sector is as accessible as the Scottish Government aspires to be.
The Bill, expected to be approved by parliament on Wednesday, gives communities more opportunities to take direct ownership of land and buildings than ever before.
Here in Edinburgh and the Lothians we’ve already seen the potential of these new powers at the 20 More project in Dumbiedykes, in my own constituency, where the community is now running its own shop; or at the Kabin in Loanhead, which is a community-run centre and serves as a hub of all kinds of activity for the area.
This Bill will make it so much easier for others now to follow.
One key part of the Bill is that local authorities and public bodies will have a statutory duty to weigh up the benefits of transferring their land and buildings to communities. Typically communities have had to wait to be offered something considered surplus by the public sector authority, but now the community will have the right to come forward proactively.
It means an old school or office that has been boarded up for years could be transformed into a sports hall, a centre for parents and toddlers or something else entirely.
Communities will also gain more rights to take over abandoned private land in both urban and rural areas. They could use these powers to transform a neglected wasteland from a dumping ground into a community garden, or they could bring empty shops back into use.
The Bill also gives community groups that have positive ideas to improve their areas more right to take part – or lead – that improvement.
By giving communities the powers and confidence to shape their own futures inequalities can be addressed by the people on the ground who best know the solutions. I would encourage everyone to consider the opportunities of this Bill for their own community and how they can now benefit from these new powers.
Marco Biagi is Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment and SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central