WE’veGOT SOME questions…


We are an independent Commission that has been set up to look at what democracy in Scotland might look like, whatever the result of the referendum in 2014. The Commission is chaired by Councillor David O’Neill, President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and we have set out its main tasks at the end of this document.

Our starting point is that we believe that local services and local accountability matter. That is why we want tobeginour work by hearing your views and suggestions about what happens now, and what the future might be.

This is only our first step in listening to you. Any information that you give us now will help start the debate, but we also want this to be an ongoing conversation. Over the next few months we will be setting up different ways in which you can meet usor tell us what you think. A good way to find out about these is by signing up to our newsletter at and by following @localcommission on Twitter.

How to Respond

We will use the information that you give us to develop our work and explore new ideas, and so what you tell us now is really important. For that reason, we want to hear from you as quickly as possible. We arekeen to hear your views by 29 November 2013, or sooner if you can. However, please let us know if you need more time.

You can complete and return this form electronically to:

You can also respond online via our website:

Alternatively you can post a copy of this form to:

The Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy

Verity House

19 Haymarket Yards

Edinburgh, EH12 5BH

If you are responding as an individual we would be grateful if you could also provide some other information when you give us your views. This will help us develop an overall picture of the information we have. This is optional and any information that you provide will be used anonymously and will remain strictly confidential.

If you have any queries please contact us using the above details or call us on 0131 474 9200

Respondent Information

To help us make the most of your response, please tell us about yourself and how you want us to use the information you provide. There are some questions marked * and these must be answered by all respondents, unless you are directed past this question.

Name of Organisation (if appropriate) / The Church of Scotland
Forename / Adrian
Surname / Shaw
Address / 121 George Street, Edinburgh
Postcode / EH2 4YN
Telephone / 0131 225 5722
Email /
Twitter name if applicable
* I am responding as: / An individual
An organisation/group
Do you consider yourself or your organisation as from or representing?
a rural area / an urban
area / an area with both urban and rural parts / don’t know /
not applicable
Would you be happy to be approached by the Commission for further discussion about your submission? / Yes
If you are responding as an individual:
* Do you agree to your response being made available to the public on the Commission’s web site? / Yes
* If you have agreed to your response being made available to the public, please tell us if we may also make your name and address available. (Please select one option only)
Yes, make my response, name and address all available
Yes, make my response available, but not my name and address
Yes, make my response and name available, but not my address
If you are responding as an individual we would be grateful if you could also provide some additional information. This is absolutely optional but it will help us get an overall picture of the information we receive. You can download thissheet here and send it to us at the same time as you return this form.
If you are responding as a group or organisation:
* The name and address of your organisation will be made public on the Commission’s web site. Are you content for your response to also be made available? / X Yes
Which of the following best describes your organisation? (Please select one option only)
Community Group
Local Authority
Other public sector organisation
Third Sector organisation
Professional body / A business
A government department or agency
A social enterprise
XOther (please specify)
Short description of the main purpose of your organisation:
The vision of the Church of Scotland is to be a church which seeks to inspire the people of Scotland and beyond with the Good News of Jesus Christ through enthusiastic worshipping, witnessing, nurturing and serving communities. The Church of Scotland is one of the largest organisations in the country. We have over 400,000 members, with more regularly involved in local congregations and our work. Within the organisation, we have around 800 ministers serving in parishes and chaplaincies, supported by more than 1500 professional and administrative staff. Most of our parishes are in Scotland, but there are also churches in England, Europe and overseas. The Church of Scotland works with communities worldwide. At the heart of our work to achieve these aims is one of the largest organisations in Scotland that has a pivotal role in Scottish society and indeed religion throughout the world.

Tell us what you think

We have not provided a long list of questions to answer, but we do want to hear what you have to say about some themes. Please respond to as few or as many as you wish. However, it would be helpful to keep your overall response to eight pages or less.

Please provide evidence or examples in support of what you say. This will help us understand and explore your ideas further.

1.LOCAL DECISION MAKING: Do you think that decisions about local issues and services are made locally enough in Scotland at the moment? If not, what does deciding ‘locally’ mean to you? Please illustrate your answer with any examples from your own experience.
For the Church of Scotland ‘local’implies‘parish’. There are over 1400 Church of Scotland parishes across Scotlandthat take forward the work and the mission of the Church. At parish level the kirk session oversees the local congregation and its parish, and consist of elders presided over by a minister.
At district level, the presbytery consists of all the ministers in the district and an equal number of elders, along with members of the diaconate (a form of ordained ministry, usually working in a complementary role in a ministry team in both parish and industry sector contexts). There are 46 presbyteries across Scotland, England, Europe and Jerusalem.
At national level, the General Assembly meets only once a year for a week and consists of around 400 ministers, 400 elders, and members of the diaconate, all representing the presbyteries.
Therefore the Church of Scotland has a form of governance in which most day to day decision making is devolved to local parishes. To quote from a report by the Church and Nation Committee to the General Assembly of 2001:
Since the 16th century the Church of Scotland has prided itself on continuing to rely on a system which brought governance close to the people. The Bible emphasises the value placed by Jesus on the views of ordinary people. In the 20th century the Church has espoused devolved government and, in the last decade, the concept promoted by the European Union of subsidiarity (the exercise of power as close as possible to the people). In discussion of the new political settlement in Scotland it is too easy to concentrate on the Parliament and the Executive and thereby ignore what could be regarded as the democratic foundation of any such settlement - local government. It is our belief that this foundation needs to be valued and strengthened.
In Scotland’s secular government we suggest that this foundation is sometimes overlooked. Most government services are provided by very large organisations: local authorities, health boards or central government agencies. These are organisations with multi-million or in some cases multi-billion pound budgets. The lowest tier of government, community councils, has a very limited role and provides few if any services. This is incontrast to most other European countries where there is a thriving tier of government at local level. We suggestthat the commission offers anopportunity to re-examine and strengthen this foundation.
2.LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY:How important do you think it is for locally elected people to be responsible for decisions about local issues and services? Do you have any examples of why this is the case?
If there is weak local involvement in decision taking then there is a risk that the provision of public services becomes just a consumer -provider relationship rather than one with real local democratic control. Public authorities provide servicesthat are usually determined by the Scottish Government with funding also largely providedby centralgovernment. This form of provision may try to ensure a common standard of provision but will not necessarily reflectlocal needs or wishes and the service will not necessarily be provided inaway that takes account of local circumstances.
Local authorities and other providers of public services have tended to reduce in number over the past half century. Local authorities are fewer in number and larger in size with elected members for multi ward members that have stretched local accountability, particularly in rural Scotland where multi member wards can cover very large areas.
Some services including police, fire and water are now national. Health service facilities have become larger and fewer in number and for many rural communities geographically more remote. They are only weakly accountable to communities they serve. There is sometimes an impression that in such large organisationsprofessional or managerial priorities have driven the changes in scale and the local accountabilityis of relatively minor significance.
Alongside statutory sector there have been many examples of communities seeking to become involved. The Poverty Truth Commission,a project of Faith in Community Scotland
supported by the Church of Scotland,has brought together some of Scotland's civic leaders with people at the sharp end of poverty. They have worked together to discover the truths about poverty, and explore real solutions to it. This work has been able to inspire many people to think about working in a new way. It highlights some of the limitations of current arrangements; their distance from communities in need. To quote from the Poverty Truth Commission:
We call on the people living in poverty to be involved in shaping and delivering anti-poverty policy. We challenge governments to involve directly involve those who struggle against poverty in designing, implementing and evaluating solutions to poverty.
We recognise the wisdom, knowledge and expertise of people living in poverty - the real experts without whom limited progress will be made. We challenge people who are struggling to overcome poverty to share their struggle and to work together with others for lasting change.
3.LOCAL PRIORITIES: How well do you think that communities’ local priorities are accounted for in the way that national and local government works at the moment? What is effective, and if there is room for improvement, how should things change?
In Scotland decision making has become more centralised. The Scottish Parliament has taken powers from Westminster but since its creation police and fire have been centralised and central government control over local authority finance remains stringent. Localauthorities do have local democratic accountability through the election of councillors but much of localgovernment activity and its service priorities reflect the national agenda not necessarily local priorities.
At the level of community or parish the ability of communities to determine and out into effect their priorities for services is limited, particularly for people in poverty. The Poverty Truth Commission recognised that this is a huge challenge and identified that bringing about the long term and sustainable involvement of people in poverty requires long term commitment to listening and working together.
In response to question four below we set out proposals to enhance local service delivery.
4.STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY: What do you think should be done to strengthen local democratic decision making in Scotland? Do you have any ideas or examples about how this could improve people’s lives?
Within the Church of Scotland the greatest level of community involvement in decision making is at the lowest level; that of the parish. Geographically the Church of Scotland is organised into presbyteries and nationally meets once a year in the General Assembly. There are opportunities for members of the Church and others to influence decisions at presbytery or nationally but the biggest opportunities for involvement areat parish level. Most churches are the focus of some community activities; many are now seven day a week community centres with a variety of activities; some religious and some secular community activities. Some like Scotland’s 300 eco-congregations link faith to practical community action. Across Scotland churches can claim to be at the heart of their local communities.
In other European countries a tier of government closer to the population is the norm not the exception – a local tier that seems durable and robust.
At the same time across Scotland there are literally thousands of community groups, providing local services, often with financial support from local authorities, central government or other grant giving bodies. Such groups demonstrate the energy, resources and commitment that exist within communities and how it can be channelled into effective action.
We suggest that there is a significant democratic deficit in local government in Scotland and diminishes the opportunity for local communities to identify issues or manage services of importance to the local community. To address this we suggest that a revitalized and more active role for community councils could make them more important in the local communities. To strengthen local democracy we suggest this should be an objective of government policy.
How could this be done?
We suggest that community councils should be given the opportunity to take on delivery of local services where they can demonstrate that they have the capacity and where there is clear evidence of local support.
How would this work?
A community council could provide services within its area if it can demonstrate there is popular support for the proposal and if the proposal makes business sense. For example if a community council believed that it could manage a local park or street cleansing better than the existing authority it should have the option to take over the service provided it could:
•demonstrate popular support for the idea through a local referendum in the area of the community council; and
•prepare a credible business plan that could pass the scrutiny of an independent auditor.
5.SCOTLAND’S FUTURE: Has there been enough discussion about local democracy in the debate about Scotland’s future? If not, whatshould be addressed and how might this be achieved?
The Church of Scotland is neutral on the outcome of the referendum but is encouraging congregations to consider the issues underlying the debate. In 2013 the Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office has led a large exercise in participative democracycalled ‘Imagining Scotland’s Future’. This involved over 30 meetings with congregations and other groups across Scotland; in cities, towns and rural areas; in areas of multiple deprivation and with young people. The purpose of the exercise is to encourage congregations to envision what kind of society we might live in regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
Equality, fairness and justice emerged as values which were frequently cited by participants when considering their aspirations for the country in the future.It was interesting to note that these wererepeatedly mentioned as priorities in different areas and with different groups rather than some of the high profile issues that have dominated media discussion of the referendum.
Theparticular relevance to local democracy is that ‘Imagining Scotland’s Future’ demonstrates that discussion of issues of critical importance is perfectly possible in local community groups and can lead to thoughtful and sophisticated discussion of priorities for government . We must not patronize community decision making as being unsophisticated or irrelevant: it is an essential root of national democracy.
The full report of the exercise ‘Imagining Scotland’s Future’will be published in February 2014.
6.OBSTACLES AND CHALLENGES: Do you have any concernsabout strengthening local democratic decision makingin Scotland?
In response to question 4 above we set out a proposal to promote local democratic control of service provision. A number of questions have traditionally been raised about the ability of community councils torun services. These include the following.
Community councils are incapable of running anything; they are too small and lack professional skills and resources
There are examples from countries across Europe where community councils provide local services effectively and democratically, such as Iceland – with a population of just 320,000 it has 74 local municipalities. This should be an inspiration to devolution of services to the local level in Scotland. Many services are provided by local community organizations across Scotland so scale is not necessarily a barrier. Training and support might be needed at the outset to help develop key skills in business planning and management, particularly in communities without experience of managing community or voluntary organisations.
Community councils are often moribund or lack democratic accountability
Local authorities have a limited democratic accountability. They often receive very low turnout in local elections and remote from the communities they serve. As community councils do not currently provide services they offer little incentive to get involved. If they were given powers to take on service delivery they would attract far greater interest and stimulate for more local democratic activity.
This would create an asymmetrical delivery of services
It might, but so has devolution. There is no reason why different areas should not deliver services in different ways; this would be a mark of real local democracy. In particular rural areas have different service delivery needs to urban Scotland and allowing local communities to explore local methods of service delivery areas should be embraced.
Some communities will fail and projects will go bust
No doubt some will but this is not a reason not to try. There are safeguards against fraud and maladministration in both the statutory and voluntary sector and if we believe in local democracy we should have faith and encourage and support communities who wish to run their own services.
7.We would like to keep the conversation going with you. Can you tell us about any events, networks or other waysin which we could help achieve this? Is there anything that we can do to support you?
The Church and Society Council speaks on behalf of the Church of Scotland on a range of issues. The Council reports directly to the General Assembly and can communicate with presbyteries, and with congregations through a network of congregational representatives in parishes across Scotland. There are also other ecumenical networks of ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland) and SCPO (Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office).
We would like to be part of the continuing discussions about local democracy and to contribute further to the work of the Commission.

Thank you for your submission. If you have any queries about the Call for Evidence please contact us at: