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COMMUNITY PLANNING A NEW ALTERNATIVE FOR A NEW SCOTLAND

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Community planning will provide a new alternative for a new Scotland , ...
Community planning will provide a new alternative for a new Scotland ,

securing service delivery and accountability at a local level, Keith Geddes, president of COSLA, said today in a speech at a seminar on community planning.

'Community planning allows us to move away from the debate about

whether it should be local government or central government which

provides services. In local government terms community planning is

the third way,' says cllr Geddes.

'It provides a new alternative for a new Scotland. I believe it

secures local service delivery and local accountability at a local

level. I believe that it can work and that it will work and that

today's conference can be the starting point in developing a new and

better way of meeting the needs of all of Scotland's communities.'

And he says that the Scottish parliament should not become a super

local authority which sees its role as running things from the centre.

'If the parliament goes down the road of centralisation then the whole

principle of devolution and subsidiarity will be lost. It would be

goodbye to local people taking local decisions and influencing local

policy at a local level.

'Communities throughout Scotland would have a diminished view of the

worth of Scotland's new parliament if it were to remove from local

communities the right to the final say as to how education, police,

social work and other services were delivered in policy and practical

terms at a local level. So I hope and believe that the new parliament

will not listen to those who see its creation as a means of

centralising power.'

Mrr Geddes identified three areas where councils could develop

their unique status as democratically elected bodies - developing a

vision for their localities; providing a focus for partnership and

guaranteeing quality services for all.

But he says that as well as providing an enormous opportunity,

community planning also presents a challenge for local government and

its partner organisations: 'The first challenge for local government

is to make space for it to happen. Community planning will need time,

energy and commitment from both members and officers if it is to be

successful.

'To make its introduction successful we have to give community

planning the priority it deserves. We can do this by further

redefining what our core business should be. Deciding which key

services local government wants to be in the business of delivering

directly and which services are best delivered by others or delivered

by a partnership of local government and other agencies.

Mr Geddes also identified the loss of some 2,300 corporate

posts in local government since 1996 as another difficulty: 'We need

to fill that gap by freeing up senior managers time and where

appropriate recruit new people with skills necessary to make community

planning happen. We have argued too long for a duty of community

planning; local government simply cannot afford community planning to

fail.'

The second challenge of community planning, he says, is the need to

develop new skills: 'We talk partnership but partnership skills

cannot be taken for granted. They need to be developed across the

public sector. We are all good at our own professional skills, we

need to develop skills to become good partners where the skills of

influencing, networking and sharing power are seen as a common set of

skills which we all should have.

'Thirdly,' Mr Geddes said, 'In local government we need to

show by our leadership style that our leadership is not about

dictation or a takeover, it is about facilitating a partnership. It

is about never losing sight of the fact that it is not ultimately

institutions or institutional boundaries that are important, it is

always the interests of our communities. Communities first,

institutions second should be a common password in community

planning.'

He also identified the need for written plans to be realistic and

credible saying that councils will fail if the commitment of written

plans is not translated into genuine action: 'If the plan simply

becomes a bureaucratic paperchase we will breed cynicism, not only

within our own organisation but, most importantly with our

communities.

'Our plans need to be challenging but realistic, aspirational but

credible and we must be able to measure our success. If we cannot do

that then it is not worth doing.'

And finally, Mr Geddes called for the partners to have respect

for each other: 'We have different cultures, different

decision-making processes and different decision-making timescales.

'Geographical boundaries may not coincide, our planning cycles may

differ and the role of the board members and councillors may also

differ. We need to recognise these constraints, recognise these

differences and work to overcome them. Indeed there is a paradox

here, increasingly it is being recognised that management and indeed

political skills across the public sector in Scotland are common and

are likely to be increasingly so in the context of a Scottish

parliament. Yet there is hardly any movement between councils and

health boards, councils or LECs or between local and central

government.

'Tony Blair, in a recent speech, talked about a single career route

between Whitehall and the town hall. Secondments, mutual exchanges

can help break down those barriers. If it can't be done in Scotland,

where can it be done?'

NOTES

1. Cllr Geddes was speaking at a joint COSLA/Scottish Office seminar on Community Planning at Edinburgh's Carlton Highland Hotel today.

2. Copies of the full text of Councillor Geddes' speech are

available from COSLA's public affairs office or on COSLA's website -

www.cosla.gov.uk.

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