Last month, colleagues and I headed to Glasgow to join 300 delegates from across Scotland at a national conference on community planning Changing Lives, Delivering Success: Turning Ambition into Action.
In the report we published last year, Community Planning: turning ambition into action, we found that there is a renewed energy around community planning since the publication of the Statement of Ambition, and the buzzing atmosphere on the day certainly reflected that.
John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, and Marco Biagi, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, set the tone for the event, sending out a rallying call to partners to work together to end inequality and improve the life chances of those in disadvantaged communities. They highlighted the importance of ensuring that communities are at the centre of decisions that will influence their lives.
An inspirational example of this came from the keynote speaker, Richard Millar, Director of Heritage, Enterprise and Sustainability at Scottish Canals. Not a subject matter you would immediately think of in the context of community planning, however we were shown how the previously redundant canals of Scotland have been brought back to life over 15 years of innovative thinking, partnership working and a willingness to adapt.
Scottish Canals has reinvented itself as an organisation, shifting its focus from engineering to social and cultural regeneration. It’s worked with local people and other partners in creative and forward thinking ways, to transform wasteland along Scotland’s canals into rewarding places for local communities and the public more widely.
We heard about many examples of this work, such as the development of Pinkston Watersports, Scotland’s first urban watersports centre in North Glasgow, and working with partners to transform 350 hectares of land between Falkirk and Grangemouth into The Helix, an area of parkland and visitor attractions, such as the iconic Kelpies (see picture, courtesy of The Helix). In short, Scottish Canals is adapting to the changing landscape of service delivery, by putting communities at the heart of what it does.
The range of over 30 workshops throughout the day showcased the successes that can be achieved when organisations and local people work together to make their community better. We heard about the variety of services that can be designed and delivered by communities, in areas such as health and social care, community justice, and tackling food poverty. These are the things that the Scottish public sector needs to think more innovatively about, as it continues to undergo reform and responds to further devolution.
We’re currently in the early stages of follow up work on community planning partnership working in Scotland. We hope to find that the enthusiasm and drive of the practitioners we saw at the conference is being embraced at both a national and local level, in order to deliver services that go right to the root of what communities want, and need, to flourish.
About the author
Zoe McGuire, Audit Officer, joined Audit Scotland in January 2014 and has worked on audits of community planning partnerships at a local and national level.