Community councils reveal fears of losing powers

Norman Tinlin. Picture: Gareth Easton
Norman Tinlin. Picture: Gareth Easton
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Community councils fear the voice of the grassroots will be lost when the city council devolves power to its new “locality committees”.

They say the new bodies – each covering a quarter of the city – will not be close enough to communities and fail to give community councils any role.

Locality committees are to take over responsibility for scrutiny of police and fire services, approval of community grant funds, oversight of locality improvement plans and approval of local transport regulation orders, with further powers to be added later. They are each made up of all the councillors representing that part of the city.

But while community councils send representatives to the current 12 neighbourhood partnerships across the city – whose future is uncertain – they will only be able to make representations to the new bodies, like any other council committee.

Norman Tinlin, secretary of Fairmilehead community council, said: “Community councils are not going to have the same voice – they’re going to be silenced is the way some people are putting it.”

He said the for new localities – North West, North East, South West and South East – were “far too big”. “At least with neighbourhood partnerships they covered a smaller area and it was more local. With locality committees there are only going to be four for the whole of the city.”

And he said there was no prospect of community councils being given a place on the new committees. “It won’t happen because neighbourhood partnerships are advisory whereas the locality committees are going to vote on things so it will only be councillors.”

The Edinburgh Association of Community Councils (EACC) wrote to the council saying if neighbourhood partnerships were abolished it would mean a “loss of local democracy”.

And it claimed community councils were being side-stepped which it said was an “insult” to the time-consuming voluntary work done by community councillors.

EACC secretary David Bewsey said they were keen to work with the council to achieve something which worked. But he said: “I would like to understand how locality committees get their steer from the community. There is no automatic input from community councils and there is a concern about how much of a voice they will have.”

Emma Phillips, chair of Craigleith/Blackhall community council, said there were three community councils in the Inverleith neighbourhood partnership she was part of, but the new localities would each cover 15 or more community council areas.

“They don’t really represent the community which people are in because they cover such huge areas and people’s voices won’t be heard.”

The council said it was decentralising decision making and increasing community participation. A spokeswoman said: “Where executive committees currently have responsibility for services across the city, locality committees will ensure a local focus is provided which responds to residents and communities.”

She said a review of community planning structures would inform the future role of neighbourhood partnerships.