Existing local level decision-making

Are there existing forms of local level decision-making which could play a part in exercising new local powers?  Are there new forms of local decision-making that could work well?   What kinds of changes might be needed for this to work in practice?

Why the contribution is important

We want to explore how all public services, councils and the Scottish Government can make this work.  Existing groups that take action and are part of decision-making in communities include council area committees, area partnerships, community councils, development trusts, community based housing associations and community led groups and organisations.  Other forms of decision-making, like Participatory Budgeting and community action planning are also being developed, although not all public services currently work this way. Perhaps all of these different structures and processes could be built on, or developed, to support greater levels of community decision-making across public services and to strengthen local democracy. That might include sharing powers or resources differently between the Scottish Government, councils and communities, a second, more local, layer of local government, or other potential ideas.   Regardless of the structures or processes people like best, this review is also a key opportunity to ensure diverse community voices are heard in decision-making processes.  Get this right and it will help make a real difference to local priorities, and progress equalities and human rights across Scotland, including on issues such as housing, health and the enjoyment of a decent standard of living. 


by LocalGovernanceAdmin on May 24, 2018 at 03:27PM

Current Rating

Average score : 5.0
Based on : 1 vote


  • Posted by KayBee June 25, 2018 at 12:45

    Democracy is power in the hands of the people not in vested interests or parties. Where possible decisions should be made by the people. In the modern electronic age this should not be a problem. There is no place in a proper Democracy for one person or group of people dictating what should happen. For that reason in a representative democracy the use of whips or anything akin to them should be outlawed and our representatives allowed to vote according to their conscience or by the wish of their electorate. Similarly parties should play a very minor role simply used to indicate the side of the fence a representative is on and have no sway in the council chamber or parliament Finally the public servant's duty, be they civil or local government should be advisory only, and must under pain of instant dismissal carry out the stated policies, however difficult that may be, of the institution they serve. The and only then will we have a democracy true to its meaning.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin June 28, 2018 at 09:19

    Brian here, from the LGR team. KayBee - These points open up an important area of debate when thinking about community decision-making. For example, if new democratic processes were to be put in place at this level how should these operate in order to provide reassurance that power is genuinely in the hands of people?
  • Posted by Andy55 July 04, 2018 at 19:33

    Representative democracy, when it works effectively, is a protection against decision making which favours those who shout the loudest. Councillors, MSPs and MPs should consider the impact of their decisions on all sections of society, not just the most vocal, or those most able to promote or defend their interests. Any proposal for greater community empowerment should consider safeguards to prevent new powers or structures from being hijacked by unrepresentative individuals or groups. I fear that the large majority of the population will be quite apathetic about any new powers or structures, and that as a result there will be little to stop an active minority wielding disproportionate influence.

  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 06, 2018 at 13:03

    Andy, Jen again. Thank you for your comment Andy. Your concerns are 100% on our radar!
    Do you (or anybody else!) have any suggestions on what may help us overcome these challenges? Particularly around how a participatory democracy COULD work?
  • Posted by AJ July 16, 2018 at 12:51

    I also fear most people will be apathetic about more layers of decision making. Looking at voter turnout in local election should tell you that. Community Councils are a very small subsection of an area and not set up in a way to allow very many people to even know who they are, what they do and if the people on the councils are suited to hold any power at all.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 19, 2018 at 14:35

    Great to see you joining the conversation AJ! Keen to hear any suggestions you have on what might motivate people to get more involved in local decision-making. For example, you highlight the size of area and also the way decision making bodies are set-up as important success factors.
  • Posted by IanLowe July 23, 2018 at 17:31

    I think that the low visibility and scrutiny of Community Councils is a direct result of them having no budget, and no powers at all. Having worked in a few councils, the same is true there - the elected officials in councils have zero control, and are openly derided by the "real" power - the heads of services and directors employed as if the council was a company; they are not elected, they have no limits on time, and they are the ones actually running the councils. the people that we elect have no more power than we do on the street - they can write to, and ask nicely, for the council officers to do what they ask, but they have no authority. Any re-design of local decision making needs to allow actual decisions of substance to be made - and that means both money and power being passed down the chain.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 25, 2018 at 09:56

    Hi Ian, What kind of issues would you like to see being decided by communities? And who do you think should have the power over these decisions and associated budgets?
  • Posted by SuzieQue July 25, 2018 at 22:14

    I would like to contribute that the conversation should not just be about the size of councils. There are many other public sector bodies delivering important services which are much more remote from local influence. Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise spring to my mind. The decisions these bodies make will have great impact on the relative prosperity of many pats of Scotland. Greater local influence over these types of services by locally elected and accountable representatives may well have a much greater positive impact than tinkering with the size of councils.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 27, 2018 at 13:39

    Thanks Suzie, This helps to highlight a really important point – the Democracy Matters discussion will look across all public services. People will be interested in issues which are the responsibility of a whole range of public bodies, not just councils. These issues are very much part of the conversation when thinking about the future of local decision-making.
  • Posted by Swannie July 27, 2018 at 13:56

    I think participatory budgeting is a good step in the right direction.
    People have the opportunity to pitch a project (or these can be pre-set) and the community have the opportunity to vote on how funding/budgets will be spent.

    The community have a say in what happens in their community
    Provides a chance to network and participate in community activities
    In some cases promtes and encourages volunteering within the community
    Can help communities feel empowered and engaged
    I also like to think that it can help communities empathise with the tough decisions councils (and others) are faced with.
    In some cases, particularly mainstreaming PB, the community are deciding what they would like the council to work on so this limits the risk of the project not being seen through to completion.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin July 31, 2018 at 11:14

    Hello, Delighted to hear your positivity towards PB Swannie!

    Scottish Government support PB as a tool for community engagement and for developing participatory democracy in Scotland.
    We are promoting PB nationally through our Community Choices Fund, which is delivered in partnership with local authorities, communities and third sector organisations, and is implemented across policy areas including policing, health and social care, transport, and education.

    Further information on Participatory Budgeting can be found here: https://pbscotland.scot/

    Interested to hear if you (or others) have any personal experience with this or any other forms of local level decision making!
  • Posted by Alexa3142 August 01, 2018 at 19:46

    Some astute comments here which I agree with. Existing democratic structures are crippled by officer control. Councillors are most often directed to a particular decision rather than facilitated to choose from a few realistic possibilities. Interests of officers prevail unless Councillors are well briefed and brave enough to risk a power struggle with officers. When I served on a community council and my observation since shows that they are treated with some disdain by officers and offered no real respect or support. They are often criticised as being unelected, unrepresentative and with vested interests. This is most often by the officers mentioned above.
    How to solve? Officers should be in trouble for trying to pull the wool over councillors eyes and should be facilitating with full information rather than just that required for the officer preferred decision. There seems to be no accountability for officers who are behind crazy decisions and there is an expectation that Councillors take the flack at the voting booth.
    People who are willing to give their time to their communities and try to act as a conduit towards local authorities and else should be given more respect. Officers tend to think they are mad people and make no effort to really understand their motivations and connections within a community. New bodies are set up to allegedly act as panels completely overiding existing bodies (cc's Parent councils, local faith groups) in my experience with even less transparency and less representation. These bodies are given budgets to disburse as grants or PB again ignoring existing local bodies, no significant ownership, no local buy in and there is a wondering why they are not credible? Surely it is better to work with people who have shown a genuine interest in their communities and help extend their knowledge of inclusion, inequality and conflicting priorities?
    The structures are there in my opinion but there are very embedded cultural,respect , empowerment issues that need addressed. Local authorities direct resources to themselves rather than facilitation in communities. Resource probably needs to come direct from government to CC's. If that was the case then there would be more incentive to set them up where there are none and more incentive for proper CC elections happening as more people want to be involved with a properly resourced empowered body.
    I don't think PB works in the way I have witnessed. It becomes a popularity contest with inequalities the least likely issue to be resolved as those most affected by inqualities are the least likely to get involved in the kind of process I have witnessed.
  • Posted by LocalGovernanceAdmin August 03, 2018 at 15:19

    Hi Alexa, thank you for taking the time to submit your response. It is obvious that you have put a lot of passion and thought into this which is exactly what we are looking for!

    What are peoples thoughts on how to design a system that promotes positive relationships, inclusion, equality and decisions that are taken by looking at all the facts?
  • Posted by MJReid August 26, 2018 at 18:10

    There are many ways of having "a say" at a local level but too often they are not inclusive and so are not accessible to many in the community. For example, too often meetings take place in traditional working hours - Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm. so that whoever is holding the consultation/meeting can attend in work hours. But what of the participants who may also be working? Is it fair that they have to take a day's annual leave to be able to have their say?
    Or the venue for the event is wheelchair/physically accessible, but does not have a hearing loop or projected notes so that people with a hearing loss can take part. Or indeed, the meeting/event is a "world cafe" event held in one room which is then totally inaccessible to someone with a hearing loss. Online does not work for all either. One size never fits all as communities are not made up of homogeneous groups. More needs to be done to make the democratic processes we have at the moment more inclusive of everyone in Scotland before more layers are put in place that will still be exclusive of most of the population.
  • Posted by wilson October 31, 2018 at 15:14

    There have been comments regarding Community Councils and their effect within local democracy, but as a Community Councillor (retired) from a L.A. which reckons that the way to revitalise CC's is to have a review and usually change boundaries which often fails to do anything meaningful.
    One approach is to give CC's sufficient resources and support to carry on what is a voluntary and non political role within the L.A. area.
    When I was a Community Councillor, the only training I received was on finance ?. I became a Secretary of a CC, and then went on to be a Secretary of a 'collective' or Forum which covered a L.A. area, so I have a fair idea what is wrong with local democracy !
    As an aside, the L.A. saw the CC's as the enemy.
  • Posted by ST214 November 09, 2018 at 22:36

    The Scottish Government are passing legislation that is not always being adhered to or adapted to suit local Council's 'policy'.
  • Posted by desmartin November 12, 2018 at 08:52

    For local levels of decision making to be successful people must feel empowered and that their actions and voice are heard. Unfortunately with the present local government arrangements local voices and views are often requested but rarely acted on unless for the self serving interests of councillors or along party political lines. Community councils are supposed to represent their communities in a wide range of matters but have no legal position or strength when representing their views with local councils. In fact they have such a procedural process that an answer or recognition or the complaint is often only recognised but rarely answered.
    Legal recognition for community councils.
  • Posted by SeanRW November 12, 2018 at 16:25

    Here's an example of Participatory Budgeting, the results of which I just found out today.

    The exercise covered two Community Council areas, one with high levels of deprivation and inequality, one without. 14 bids from local groups submitted, 4 from the relatively deprived area, 10 from the other. Voting is held at the local libraries, with just over 1000 voters voting for 5 of the projects each.

    8 of the 10 successful projects hail from the more affluent area, perhaps just a reflection of the quality of proposals put forward. Except...

    ...the extremely large Primary school in the more affluent area made all their P4-P7 pupils vote in the consultation, and not only that, told them what they were to vote for in four cases, with one remaining free vote they could use how they wish.
    Given the size of the school, around 40% of the total number of voters were probably primary school pupils, filling in forms as instructed.

  • Posted by mikevickers November 20, 2018 at 20:06

    To AJ: "Community Councils are a very small subsection of an area". This is also true for Local Authorities but they have visibility because they weld the power.
    In contrast Community Councils are largely without power and can be neglected.
    However I would suggest that Community Councils do have more power as set out in Section 51 (2) of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973, should they so wished to exercise it. I oft repeat ‘’In addition to any other purpose which a community council may pursue, the general purpose of a community council shall be to ascertain, co-ordinate and express to the local authorities for its area, and to public authorities, the views of the community which it represents, in relation to
    matters for which those authorities are responsible, and
    to take such action in the interests of that community as appears to it to be expedient and practicable’’
    We can but seldom do 'take such action'
  • Posted by mikevickers November 20, 2018 at 20:16

    To Andy55: "the population will be apathetic about any new powers or structures". As I said in my comment to AJ, I believe Community Councils could start to move forward if we are seen " to take such action in the interests of the community".
    Whilst I accept that we may be seen as "an active minority wielding disproportionate influence" this is partly because we care about our town and are prepared to make time available to put this care into action. All of us in our Community Council would welcome new blood.
  • Posted by mikevickers November 20, 2018 at 20:25

    To IanLowe: at the meeting today organised by Democracy Matters all of us decried the position of no power at all and no budget. I subscribe that this position must be laid at the feet of the Scottish Government who have chosen to disenfranchise Community Councils. I contrast this as what is in place in England where Town Councils still flourish and have budgets funded by their District Councils. I recommend readers to see a typical 'Precept' budget operated by Penrith Town Council.
  • Posted by mikevickers November 20, 2018 at 20:36

    To Alexa3142: "Councillors are most often directed to a particular decision rather tan facilitated to choose from a few realistic possibilities. Interests of officers prevail unless Councillors are well briefed and brave enough to risk a power struggle with officers". This is my impression too. I witness this situation at PDSPs and Executive meetings of our Local Authority. Indeed in our submission to the Democracy Matters consultation we stated "e. “We consider that our Ward Councillors sometimes see their responsibility more to West Lothian as a whole rather than to Linlithgow. In this respect they see West Lothian Local Authority as the lowest level of Democracy to which they are responsible to; the Community Council having little relevance.”
    As an aside I believe that there were Local Authority Council Officers present at today's Meeting. If so, not a positive sign for change
  • Posted by mikevickers November 20, 2018 at 20:43

    To SeanRW: 8 of 10 successful projects hail from the more affluent area, perhaps just a reflection of the quality of proposals put forward". I recognise that this is a consequence of a third level of Democracy ie Community Councils. Whatever the way forward this must be guarded against. In our submission "We recognise that equality across Scotland needs to be maintained and enhanced and that deprived areas need protection. This may be Scottish Government establishing a supplementary grant for special purpose funding which would be less likely to be available to affluent areas."
    I recognise our statement could be treated as a platitude and real work is required here but this must not be treated as a reason for killing off Community Councils.
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