Launched our Governance, Neighbourhoods and Service Delivery research in Scotland at a well attended APSE seminar at Hamilton Racecourse today. The conference room overlooked the winning post and I couldn't help myself from drawing the analogy with today's topic being vital to the hopes and dreams of the public in much the same way as a horse carries the hopes and dreams of the punters. Hopefully we will be more successful in this agenda than on my occasional failed attempts at predicting the winners of horse races.
The first session saw a fairly powerful line up of speakers with the President of CoSLA, Pat Watters opening up followed by research author Dr Steve Griggs and then Renfrewshire Council Leader Derek McKay. Derek started of by saying he disagreed with Steve's views on the issue of citizen engagement but actually made quite a compelling case to support some of the points that Steve had made about the Council having to lead the public in many areas where they are not that interested in being involved. Many authorities claim to have significant engagement with communities but in reality it can often be a one way process no matter how hard you try. Alex Linkston the Chief Executive of West Lothian acknowledged this very point in his address and his authority are recognised as one of the best about.
In the afternoon I chaired a workshop on community renewal and we had an excellent debate with Paul McColgan, the Director of Community Renewal,who had spoken of how is organisation work in many of the most deprived areas of the country attempting to reengage socially excluded people and generally build some social capital. Some, myself included, were initially sceptical about community workers being independent of wider public service resources, but I guess by the end I could see the benefits of this independence existing for initial engagement so long as it joined up and coordinated with local public sector agencies.
Having said all of the above it is still my believe that local democratically elected members are the key to neighbourhood / community cohesion and allowing all individuals and groups to access services to their maximum benefit.