The NOC on Scottish Towns

The Scottish electoral system is supposedly designed to ensure that no one has control of anything – well that was the theory that the SNP destroyed in May 2011 with their ground-breaking and myth-busting triumph to become the majority party in the Scottish Parliament.

Last week saw another road test for the theory in the wildly popular and hugely supported local government elections – what do you mean you didn’t realise they were on and “forgot” to vote? And this time the theory stood up to be counted (unlike the electorate). Twenty three of the Scottish councils have no majority party i.e. there is no-one in overall control (NOC). So let the horse trading begin. There’d be smoke filled rooms and chambers across the country – if only we hadn’t banned them. A smoke filled cycle shed somewhere near the car park doesn’t have the same ring to it.

So if Scotland is basically NOC, is this an opportunity for some better thinking on some local issues? As the politicians from all parties come together to try to work out how they are going to get along – or at least not stab each other in the front – perhaps they could turn their attention to the plight of their local town centres. After all every local authority has its fair share of towns and town centres, and some of them still look like people use them.

It is in the hope that towns can be placed back on the local agenda that elements of the Scotland’s Towns Group thinking has been produced in a handy little guide by CSPP.  As our politicians try to discern the will of the people, is it too much to ask for them to think about whether they could agree on the need to do something about their local town centres?

And it has to be the local politicians, because there is no TCRF 2 coming over the horizon from the Scottish government. We all know money is tight, so local novel solutions have to be found. This might mean confronting hard truths about some centres and seeing a future for them that is beyond retail. To do that we need to understand what our town centers are now and what the local area needs them to be.

More particularly the CSPP Manifesto argues for:

  • the development of place based rather than function based budgets – joining up and re-prioritising the spend to focus on the needs of town centres
  • local authorities to “let go” and have a “light touch” on more aspects of town centres – a framework for mess rather than a total central control mechanism
  • a focus on capacity building to allow local people to engage with the issues and those who might help solve them.

As the manifesto concludes:

“The last year has seen towns and town centres become marginalised as a policy issue. The problems haven’t gone away. The opposite is true in fact. Many of our town centres are dying, teetering on the brink with no purpose or strategic vision for the future. That has to change. Home to over 50% of the Scottish population and 60% of jobs, our towns and town centres are “vital components of the social and economic fabric of the country”. The importance of our towns extends beyond mere metrics, however. Irrespective of their decline, they still retain a deeply important sense of place and provide the social and economic glue that enable many of us to call towns our home. “Quality of place matters”.

It might seem strange to be promoting a manifesto after the elections, but that’s perhaps the point; with no-one in control it behoves all politicians of all breeds to think about their places. Too much to ask?Let’s hope not.

About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students.
This entry was posted in Government, High Streets, Regeneration, Retail Policy, Scotland's Town and High Streets, Town Centres and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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