The two Acts of Parliament governing Community Councils allow for them to “take any action” they deem appropriate to improve their community. They set out the requirements of each local authorities “scheme for the establishment of Community Councils”.
The Macintosh Report on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament said this about Community Councils:
—Community Councils158. Any discussion of this subject has to pay special attention to the institution of community councils, whose purpose specifically is to represent local communities. Community councils are unique. They are statutory, but they are not another tier of local government; they are not creatures of the council, as area forums or citizens’ panels are; nor are they purely voluntary bodies, as residents’ associations and tenants’ associations are. A community can choose not to have a community council; but if a community council exists the council can neither dissolve it, as it could dissolve or reorganise its own forums and panels, nor may it choose to ignore it, as it might ignore a voluntary association.
159. All our consultations drew a great deal of interest from community councils themselves, and a vigorous and considered response from many of them. These responses demonstrated the essential diversity of these bodies; the range of coverage and variety in activity; and a spirited independence, which was a marked and welcome feature. We also found a feeling of dissatisfaction with various aspects of the way the system is working in practice. Many community councils themselves were in some degree unhappy with their treatment by the council, often that they were inadequately resourced, but also with the response, or lack of it, by the council to their representations. Councils themselves had complaints, typically that community councils were not truly representative or were a focus for political opposition to the council. We noted that community councils tend to thrive more in rural areas, where they tend to correspond more accurately to discrete communities and as such meet a felt need.
160. All this has led us to the view that the system of community councils should continue, but that it stands in need of some renewal. We consider that the responsibility for initiating renewal lies to some extent with the community councils themselves, but in the first instance with councils. There are two aspects which, we believe, councils should concentrate on: assisting and encouraging community councils to become more democratic; and seeing that they have adequate resources to do what they have to do.
161. There is much complaint about elections to community councils, mainly that they are very poorly supported, so much so that places often have to be filled by co-option afterwards. It is understandable that councils are reluctant to give much credence to the representations of bodies which are patently not representative; but the remedy lies largely in councils’ own hands, by taking steps and allocating resources to publicise and facilitate community council elections. There have been some encouraging experiments with postal voting and electronic voting, which suggest that it is possible at reasonable cost to increase the turnout at community council elections significantly and even dramatically. We note too that, since community council elections are not governed by the Representation of the People Act, it is possible to lower the age of voting in them: this opens up an important opportunity to engage younger people in civic affairs.
162. At the national level we note the work done by the Association of Scottish Community Councils. There is strength in numbers, and we would hope to see this body develop further, to become a shared resource and common forum for all community councils. To the extent that it can do that it will gain credibility as a representative body itself, and be able to carry on an increasingly fruitful dialogue with COSLA and with central government.
163. While our work was in progress The Scottish Office commissioned research into the current state of the system of community councils. We trust that the report of this research will be given a depth of consideration which could not have been achieved by this Commission within its allotted time frame…
165. On the basis of our study of these matters we recommend – That the system of community councils should be retained and should be regarded as a valuable asset to the democratic life of Scotland. That their role should be seen within the wider context of the area approach being adopted by many councils, as a means of obtaining the fullest possible consultation at local level. Local authorities should also address – The general resourcing of community councils, including not only levels of financial support but also the provision of and access to accommodation, equipment and office facilities. Improvements in electoral arrangements, taking into account examples of good practice already evident, and including use of postal ballots and electronic voting. The development of civic education.
167. Community councils, for their part, should undertake a process of renewal, specifically addressing – Their own representative nature and how effectively they establish public opinion within their own area. How they involve and establish links with other communities of interest.
How they involve young people in their work and in their organisation. The possibility of extending the vote in community council elections to 16 year olds should be given particular consideration.
Membership of community councils consists of:
- Elected members: The local authority’s establishment scheme details the number of elected councillors, and the areas for which they shall be elected.
Some Community Councils currently allow:
- Co-opted members: The community council may co-opt additional members with particular skills or interests that will assist them in their work. These members may be co-opted for a specific period of time, or dismissed at the community council’s pleasure. It is permitted for persons of between 14 and 18 years of age to be co-opted to represent the interests of “youth”.
- Ex officio members: The constitutions of many community councils provide that the area councillor for the ward containing the community council area, local MPs and MSPs shall be ex officio members.
Co-opted and ex officio members have no votes on the councils and may not be office bearers.
The establishment scheme will set out the exact procedure for establishing a council where one does not exist: a stated number of local government electors in the designated area must petition the area council, who will then schedule elections. In the case of all community council elections, if nominations are received for less than fifty percent of the seats, the election is postponed and the council not formed or dissolved. Community councils can only be dissolved if the number of elected members falls below the set minimum. Community councils can also choose to amalgamate themselves with an adjoining Community Council by a similar process.
Like in England and Wales, the main role of the CCs is to act as a channel of the opinions of the local community, and have the right to be notified of and respond to any planning applications. They are also sometimes involved in local projects mostly related to local infrastructure such as footpaths, parks, playgrounds etc, and local events.
Unlike in England and Wales, Scottish CCs do not have the right to raise funds by setting a precept on local taxes, and are instead dependent upon local authority funding, which is usually received for running costs only.
In some of Scotland CCs are often disregarded and are not usually viewed as a tier of government, even though they can legally have that role. Although in places such as Orkney andShetland, CCs are viewed as an important part of local government, and receive larger budgets.
Scotland’s network of parishes was abolished for administrative purposes in 1930, when larger district councils were formed. Unlike Wales, the new CCs created in 1975 were not necessarily based on old parish areas, which no longer fit any modern administrative areas. Several of them are based on former burghs, and have rematriculated the burgh coat of arms and use the title “provost” for their chairman.