With community councils across Midlothian experiencing a drop in membership, is there a future for this form of local democracy?
Are Scotland’s 1200 community councils, which started in 1973, a brave last stand for local democracy or a wasted effort on the part of thousands of local people?
I raised this issue at the latest Midlothian Federation of Community Councils meeting, where members from the 16 community councils across Midlothian discussed how they could get more people involved, in particular younger people.
Bill Kerr-Smith, of Eskbank Community Council, believes the future of community councils is under threat.
He said: “First of all younger people need to feel that community councils are capable of achieving things. They say that community councils don’t do much. We try to do lots of things and we make small impacts in areas.
“But in terms of engaging fully with our communities, we are not equipped for that. The role of community councils is under threat and needs to be enhanced.”
Mirabelle Maslin, of Roslin Community Council, believes it’s a cultural issue that is stopping youngsters joining up.
She said: “People in other countries grow up politically involved. I think in general our young people aren’t like that. I don’t think they really realise what they can be involved in.
“We are in the middle of a consultation for the SES (Strategic Development Planning Authority For Edinburgh and South East Scotland) plan. The current one is for the next 20 years. Once that is in place everybody has to abide by that.
“It’s very important that young people know about these things as once that’s in, that’s it set in stone.”
Ron Campbell, of Newtongrange Community Council, also worries about the lack of involvement by younger people in many of the issues currently affecting his village, issues which will have more impact on them than older community members.
He said: “One issue that’s going to come up in Newtongrange is the regeneration of the centre of the village.
“It’s not for us to say what Newtongrange needs in 20-30 years time. We need the families to come along and want it to work for their children. If the young people don’t come along and get involved, and look ahead to what their family should have in Newtongrange, then there will be nothing there.
“We do not got a vested interest in it but if you have a younger family, then you have a stake in the future of the village. It’s trying to get those people involved.”
Henry Gibson, of Tynewater Community Council, hopes that younger people join up and contribute with their specific interests, saying: “We are looking to see if the local high school would be interested in having an input in our community council.
“Maybe there is a way to encouraging the kids to look at our website and social media.
“It’s not about getting younger people to turn up to meetings, it’s about how can we involve them in what we do? There is a number of opportunities when you can engage with people outside the community council.”
Ailsa Carlisle, of Damhead Community Council, added: “We have a person who started a Facebook page for us, as that’s her interest, as is an environmental issue that she covers that for us as well.”
But Robert Hogg, chairman of Mayfield and Easthouses Community Council, said: “From my experience youngsters get bored easily. We have tried to bring them in, even for their specific subject.
“What we find is that people with young children don’t have the time for their local community council.
“Through our Facebook page we have a large amount of younger people involved.
“Mostly we see people coming along whose children have grown up and now they want to give something back to the community they grew up in.”
Eddie Robertson, of Gorebridge Community Council, admitted that despite his village’s rapid recent growth, his group has found it difficult to recruit new members.
He said: “We tried flyers through the door to get younger people in. We have succeeded to a certain extent but it’s difficult to get people that are working to join us.
“The people coming into the new houses are working in Edinburgh, shopping in Edinburgh, eating in Edinburgh, but sleeping in Gorebridge. So to try to get these people into the community council is quite difficult.”
The potential to hold community council elections, as has been done in Edinburgh, was discussed and broadly welcomed as it would generate interest, said Ron Campbell.
Robert Hogg said the move in the capital brought in more members “which can only be a good thing”.