This year's CLES summit, held in Manchester the day after the spending review, was filled with calls for anger and protest, for more belligerence from local councils, and for moving on from the past to forge a new way forward for local areas.
June 2013 - NewStart
Anyone who thinks libraries are going away simply because books are going digital are missing the true shifts taking place in the world of information. It is more and more important to develop this community value in a world that is often one of isolation, solitary social media and Internet. We are about social and digital inclusion and making people feel at home in their public space.
Transport and infrastructure challenges, along with historically low cycling rates are being tackled as a part of the Sydney 2030 blueprint, which involves a number of ambitious plans to make Sydney ‘green, global and connected’. As a result, the city aims to provide 200km of cycle lanes by 2030, with 55km separated from traffic.
A problem which is about a lack of connections needs a connected response. Individuals, the voluntary and community sector, local government and national government can all play a part. The Campaign to End Loneliness calls for government to focus on increasing pensioner incomes, for housing policy to facilitate people to stay connected to their community, for public health strategies to recognise the links between loneliness and health, and for technology to be used to strengthen connections rather than promote isolation.
Financial inclusion is an area that many housing associations are stepping up their involvement in, often through debt advice and education programmes. We are entering uncharted territory: social housing tenants have never been directly involved in the payment of rent before. Some fear the switch will lead to rising rent arrears, particularly given the number of people across the country already struggling to pay their bills.
What the European experience demonstrates is that small scale landownership can deliver large scale economic success through co-operation. It is possible to envisage a Scotland of small-scale forestry, of farm forestry, of small-scale rural businesses and of community forests. This is the reality in France and Finland but it is a million miles from the nihilistic corporatist model we have developed in Scotland where celebrities and wealthy individuals from the UK and abroad are given free rein to exploit the public funds provided to expand Scotland’s forests as a source of personal tax free aggrandisement.
For the projects covered by our study and for rural social enterprise more generally, a number of barriers may prevent their social value potential from being realised. In particular they will need to achieve sufficient scale, longevity and sustainability that the value created can be maintained and expanded into the future. This will be a major challenge in the current economic and political climate, but is one which will need to be overcome if rural social enterprise is to have a significant and lasting impact on individual and community life.
To truly embrace localism and bring control of local affairs to local people, a new generation of community organisations is needed. We need Community Land Trusts, cooperatives to bring back local shops, save dying pubs, bring fast broadband and generate sustainable power. All need strong leaders, good networks and to get started, political lobbying skills too. My thought for today is this: if we could inspire those ladies in green quilted jackets to champion localism, things would really start to move.
According to recent European Commission research, almost half of all medium sized cities in Europe are experiencing population and economic decline. But we need more open and honest debate around how we manage decline in towns and cities in the UK. Bold and creative local leaders need to follow the example of Altena, Germany.
We need action - not just sympathy and indignation. This requires all of us to work and contribute in different ways. And while there is a great opportunity for local initiatives, central government has to create the right conditions and use its authority and power to secure social justice, fairness and growth.