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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Community Wealth Building, Point of Order, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Solar Energy


Contents


Community Wealth Building

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-04580, in the name of Tom Arthur, on community wealth building—delivering transformation in Scotland’s local and regional economies. I ask members who wish to speak in the debate to press their request-to-speak button now.

14:54  

The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (Tom Arthur)

I am delighted to open the first debate on community wealth building to be held in the Scottish Parliament.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Ted Howard at an event hosted in Edinburgh by the Economic Development Association Scotland. Ted is the co-founder and president of the Democracy Collaborative, an economic think tank that is based in the United States. The Democracy Collaborative created the community wealth building approach, with much of the model’s early application and learning taking place in the city of Cleveland, Ohio. That city’s challenge with the impact of deindustrialisation warranted radical and creative thinking. In developing community wealth building, a way was devised to harness the power of public spend and assets to grow new co-operative businesses and create new jobs. In turn, that helped to empower and revitalise people and communities.

Let me be clear: community wealth building is not just for cities; it is an integrated approach to local and regional economic development, suitable for ventilation across Scotland.

Scotland is at the forefront of advancing the model, with interest growing rapidly across the world. In fact, last week, Ted Howard said:

“Your country is fast becoming a global leader in the movement of community wealth building.”

Having noted the model’s origins, I want to set out how the model works and why the Scottish Government and a growing number of Scotland’s local authorities and their partners have adopted it. However, before I do that, it is worth reflecting on the fact that our new national strategy for economic transformation highlights Scotland’s extraordinary economic potential. Crucially, NSET also recognises the challenges that we face as a society and sets out a decade-long plan to develop the wellbeing economy where prosperity and economy share equal billing.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I have sat in this chamber for 10 years now, and I have repeatedly heard speeches such as this one. As a Liberal, I love discussing all this kind of stuff, but, at some point, we need to deliver. If we look back over the past 15 years, the record is pretty woeful. Surely, we should be discussing actually making things work, rather than having these lofty debates.

Tom Arthur

I suggest that Willie Rennie buckles up and listens to the rest of the speech.

We need to take a broader view of what a prosperous economy, society and country are, moving beyond traditional measures of growth and avoiding the pitfalls that are associated with a reliance on trickle-down economic benefits reaching communities.

Collectively, and as consensually as possible, we all need to ensure that our economy functions to make businesses thrive, with the ultimate aim of enabling a society that puts people and the environment at the heart of its highest ambitions.

Our 2021 programme for government commits the Scottish Government to the introduction of a community wealth building bill during this session of Parliament. I want to work with colleagues from across the chamber to ensure that legislative change can help to simplify the economic development landscape and enable community wealth building to advance.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I am grateful for the minister’s commitment to the ideas that he is talking about. However, he would have to acknowledge that, despite the seven references in NSET to community wealth building, there is little in there about what is actually meant by that, or the resources that will be applied. Will establishing meanings and applying resources be a key part of the work that he is discussing?

Tom Arthur

I will come on to some of those issues as my remarks progress.

As the word spreads about community wealth building, some partners have expressed the view that Scotland is good at this sort of activity. Many successful programmes and initiatives in regeneration and procurement, for example, have enabled and continue to enable the revitalisation of communities, the creation of new jobs and the placing of land and property assets in the hands of communities.

Community wealth building is not intended to be a replacement for current efforts to grow or regenerate our local and regional economies. It is a refinement of current practice that can help the public, private, third and community sectors to act in concert on the economy of a place by taking a full-system approach—

Will the member take an intervention?

Tom Arthur

I am sorry, but I need to make some progress.

Community wealth building can combine the resources of all anchor partners, be they project resources or mainstream budgets, and it can provide a joined-up and streamlined prism for jointly co-ordinating economic planning and delivery.

The model represents a practical focus on economic development in real communities, with the potential to deliver a progressive wellbeing economy for Scotland; more and better fair work opportunities; business growth and the emergence of new co-operative and employee-owned models; more community-owned assets; more stable local populations enabled by new economic opportunities; and shorter supply chains supporting net zero ambitions.

The Scottish Government wants to use community wealth building as a means of rewiring how we foster local and regional economies. The model is a relatively new one, but it is not a rebranding of previous approaches or a high-level mission statement. Community wealth building is a new organising principle that is also a hard-headed, practical and operable economic development model.

The model relies on five pillars of activity. The first is spending and is about how the public sector procures with the private and third sectors and uses its wider investment power.

The workforce pillar is all about ensuring that the conditions that are attached to current and future jobs adhere to what, in Scotland, we call the fair work first principles.

With the inclusive ownership pillar, the model seeks to grow employee-owned and co-operative businesses that offer employees a deep stake in the place where they work.

The objective of the land and property pillar is to identify new opportunities for community ownership of assets, or at least a clear focus on providing local communities with the material economic benefit from the use of land.

Finally, the model has a pillar that is focused on flows of finance or borrowing, with the emphasis on attracting more ethical lending to help local and regional businesses grow.

I turn to some examples of progress that has been made with the model. In doing so, I will embark on a whistle-stop tour from the north-east United States to the north-east of England before returning home to Scotland.

In Cleveland, six anchor institutions—including Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic—with the support of the city government, helped to incubate a network of three employee-owned co-operatives that employ residents from low-income communities. The Evergreen co-ops grow food, are engaged in community energy projects and provide laundry services to a range of anchor organisations. Employees benefit from a living wage and a profit share scheme.

Inspired by what it saw in the US, Preston in England took up the mantle, creating 1,600 additional jobs, as well as achieving an additional £70 million of net investment in the city’s economy from anchor institutions and £200 million for the regional economy.

Over the past few years, those examples have inspired local authorities and their partners in Scotland to advance community wealth building. We are supporting the work of five pilot areas—in Clackmannanshire, the south of Scotland, the Western Isles, the Tay cities and Fife, and the Glasgow city region—all of which have developed and begun implementing their community wealth building action plans.

Our Covid recovery strategy commits the Scottish Government to working with all local authorities to develop action plans. Through the Ayrshire growth deal, we are investing £3 million in community wealth building to support businesses and communities across the region to enhance local supply chains, ensure fair work and maximise local assets. The region has benefited from North Ayrshire Council’s trailblazing work as the first council in Scotland to adopt community wealth building.

During a recent visit to the Western Isles, I spoke to people in the village of North Tolsta, who explained how the revenue from a community-owned wind turbine was being used to support a number of local jobs and important community organisations in the village.

I met Glasgow city region representatives to hear about progress in vacant and derelict land and procurement practices, and I was heartened to hear that individual local authorities are driving community wealth building in their localities as well as through a collaborative regional approach. By establishing a pipeline of planned construction work, the Glasgow city region has been able to generate employment opportunities, including quality apprenticeships for local people.

South of Scotland Enterprise recently updated me about its work with local registered social landlords to develop local supply chains for green retrofitting of housing stock.

In meetings with Clackmannanshire and Fife councils, I have heard about their work, which focuses on, respectively, employability and developing supply chains that will create more local employment opportunities.

Finally, I recently attended a Community Land Scotland parliamentary reception, which highlighted the fantastic work that is under way in Scotland to promote community ownership of land and the benefits that can be derived for local economies and communities.

Will the minister give way?

Very briefly.

Liz Smith

The minister is quite right about some of the really good things that are happening across the areas that he has mentioned. However, does he accept the very strong points that Audit Scotland recently made about the importance of transparency over where that money is being spent and the extent to which the projects are delivering? Delivery has to be very clearly measured so that the public can actually see what benefits have been accruing to them.

Tom Arthur

I take Liz Smith’s point. With community wealth building, our commitments on developing wellbeing economy metrics will be important. Community wealth building is a model that can deliver on the aspirations and ideals of the wellbeing economy.

As I move towards closing my remarks, I want to touch on the work of the Scottish Land Commission, which has launched community wealth building guidance that sets out practical actions that public bodies can take to use and manage land productively and in the public interest.

Our local authorities are driving the agenda, but other sectors and anchor public bodies are looking to embed the approach in their practice and engagement with local partners, including NHS Scotland, the police and fire services as well as our further and higher education institutions.

My proposition is that there is little to disagree with on this exciting new approach. Basically, it is about making our existing spend work harder to create fairer and more resilient local and regional economies. Community wealth building is about making all of the money work for local communities. The principles that underpin the model will increasingly influence the way in which the Scottish Government invests.

I turn to the development of legislation. During my discussions with the pilot areas and other key stakeholders, a number of potential barriers and impediments to the advancement of community wealth building have been raised. Earlier this month, I chaired the first meeting of the new community wealth building bill steering group. A broad cross-section of public, private and third sector partners have been invited to help develop and refine our legislative proposition. I also want to work with colleagues in the chamber and, where relevant, the United Kingdom Government as consensually as possible to ensure the continued success of community wealth building.

I am keen that development of the legislation is influenced by those with experience on the ground, so that we build on that knowledge and enthusiasm. That extends to ensuring that we measure progress, the model’s operation and the results and outputs, such as business growth, new job creation and having more land in community ownership. We also need to focus on gathering evidence about the beneficial long-term impacts of community wealth building.

Community wealth building can help to transform local and regional economies across Scotland. It can protect and create good jobs, and it can revive underutilised assets in our town centres and rural and island economies, unleashing the dynamism of community ownership and ensuring that local communities have a greater stake in their local economy. As Ted Howard says, Scotland is “becoming a global leader” in this field. We must be ambitious, bold and innovative in developing legislation to ensure that we realise the opportunity to unlock the potential of businesses and communities across Scotland, thereby creating a stronger, fairer and greener economy.

At an event recently, I was struck by a quote that I think was originally from Albert Einstein, who said:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

In rethinking our economy over the next decade, community wealth building can make a pivotal contribution.

This is perhaps not as erudite as an Einstein quote, but I was informed recently that, on an album released by the American band REM one year after I was born, there is a song called “Cuyahoga”. The song’s themes include repairing a damaged environment and the importance of community. The first line goes:

“Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up”.

I like the radical sentiment. The interesting connection is that the Cuyahoga River runs right through the centre of Cleveland, Ohio, which is the home of community wealth building. Creating Scotland’s future economy needs all of us to be radical and creative, and I think that community wealth building has a key role to play in creating that future.

I move,

That the Parliament recognises the huge potential of Community Wealth Building as a practical, place-based economic development model that can help transform local and regional economies to deliver a Wellbeing Economy for Scotland; agrees that Community Wealth Building can deliver more and better jobs, business growth, community-owned assets and shorter supply chains supporting net zero ambitions; welcomes the progress made by public, private and third sectors in implementing Community Wealth Building in Scotland so far; notes that the 2021 Programme for Government and recent National Strategy for Economic Transformation confirmed plans to introduce legislation on Community Wealth Building during the current Parliamentary session; believes that this provides an important opportunity to think creatively and innovatively about the interconnections and interdependencies between the economy, environment and society, and supports plans for wide engagement on this legislation.

15:08  

Douglas Lumsden (North East Scotland) (Con)

This is a hugely important debate for communities right across Scotland. Community wealth building provides opportunities for delivering a prosperous society for all our citizens, and I am pleased to open the debate on behalf of the Scottish Conservatives and to reaffirm our party’s support for the ambitions that community wealth building seeks to achieve. Although those ambitions are laudable, the Government must ensure that, where public money is to be allocated, it represents value to the public purse and substantial outcomes for our people.

The Scottish Conservative amendment recognises the importance of community wealth building and seeks to ensure that constitutional differences are put aside and focus is given to working collaboratively with the UK Government to ensure that our collective ambitions are realised for the whole of Scotland. I find it strange, however, that the devolved Government has brought the debate to the Parliament at this time. Yes, it is important, but the issue is only one part of growing our economy and, without a proper coherent strategy and economic growth, I am afraid that the debate will not bring the required changes.

The Scottish National Party’s report card on the economy makes for grim reading. Alex Salmond’s promise of 28,000 green jobs by 2020 has failed miserably; it is yet another broken promise from the SNP Government. We have also seen much public money being pumped into Burntisland Fabrications, for example, with little or nothing to show for it. Communities have been failed.

We have the smelter at Lochaber, where millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash have been put at risk—perhaps illegally—and thousands of jobs were promised. However, once again, we have very little to show for it. Communities have been failed.

We also have the ferry fiasco, where millions of pounds have been pumped in to purchase two ferries with no guarantee, no design, no windows, no end date, no liquefied petroleum gas storage and no proper procurement trail. Furthermore, delivery is years late. Communities have been failed.

Now we have the SNP’s latest pet project, ScotRail. When we discuss transforming local and regional economies, let us think about the damage that is being caused by having no transport system at certain times of the day.

The rail dispute is causing havoc across Scotland and having a huge impact on the events and hospitality industry just at the time that it is trying to recover from more than two years of disruption. The dispute will cause businesses to fail and jobs to be lost. How will that help our local communities?

Today, the Scottish hospitality group has called for an urgent review of the temporary train timetable. I say temporary, but nobody in the Government can seem to define what “temporary” means. The group has said that the revised timetable is a threat to public safety as customers and staff will struggle to get home at night.

There is little use in creating good well-paid jobs if people cannot get to those jobs because of poor or non-existent public transport, as might be the case now, depending on the time of day. We are now living in a society in which people are being forced to drive to work. However, if people cannot drive or cannot afford a car, I am not sure what they are meant to do.

The rail dispute is costing jobs and this devolved Government needs to act. How ironic it is that we now have the Greens in Government at a time when rail fares are increasing and services are being slashed. No wonder Green MSPs do not want to comment on the mess in which they are complicit.

In my region, we have the oil and gas industry. That was once seen as the cornerstone of the independence argument, but the industry is being thrown under the bus by the SNP-Green coalition. How will that attitude help those communities in the north-east of Scotland, which are seeing their opportunities swept away by the hostility that this devolved Government is demonstrating?

Perhaps the minister will focus on that list of economic failures when he is summing up. Those failures are damaging our communities, but no doubt that will be glossed over as the Government congratulates itself. It needs to get its head out of the sand and see the damage that it is doing to the economy as a whole.

The principles of community wealth building have the potential to be transformational for many communities up and down the country. It is strange, however, that the Government’s motion makes no mention of the huge elephant in the room: the funding of local government.

The briefing note from the Improvement Service states that local government has a huge role to play as an anchor institution; as a strategic partner of other anchor institutions that might already be a part of local community planning structures; and as a partner of the Scottish Government, developing policies and enabling measures. Local authorities have a huge role to play in economic growth and community wealth building. They are closest to our communities and they understand local needs best of all. However, this year, local government had a real-terms cut of £251 million to its core budget.

Of course, economic development is not a statutory service for councils. Because statutory services are protected, it is vital functions such as economic development that must shoulder the bulk of the cuts. That seems to be the way of this centralising devolved Government: short-sightedness that will have a detrimental effect on all our communities and a negative impact on our long-term economic prosperity.

The Scottish Government talks about partnership with local government, but it is not a partnership; it is a dictatorship.

Elena Whitham (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) (SNP)

The member will recognise that my constituency and Ayrshire have definitely not been afforded a just transition over the years. Does the member welcome the fact that the Scottish Government has committed £3 million to community wealth building as part of the Ayrshire growth deal? That will build on the work that has already been done. Over the past decade, East Ayrshire Council has put all its money into ensuring that local producers are supported when procuring school meals.

Douglas Lumsden

I absolutely agree. That is one of the reasons why local government needs to be funded correctly. Without proper funding, it is harder for local government to play a vital role.

The devolved Government dictates to local authorities what it wants, and local government simply has to fall in line. That is why the Scottish Government is so against the levelling up funds. Those funds allow local government to bid in directly without the controlling, centralising hand of the Scottish Government. Our citizens do not care where the money is coming from to provide investment and jobs in our communities—they just want the investment to happen.

We have seen truly ambitious plans and historic funding from the UK Government throughout the pandemic, but more importantly, as we move from our response into recovery, it is vital that we ensure that communities can rebuild following the economic and social devastation that the pandemic has left behind.

That investment from the UK Government is levelling up communities across the whole UK, as set out in the £4.8 billion levelling up fund. Although that additional investment has been focused on strategically significant projects, the UK Government has rightly recognised that more targeted funding that empowers local communities is also required. The community ownership fund that the UK Government has unveiled provides an additional £150 million for communities across the UK, enabling them to own and manage community assets at risk of closure. That investment will place significant decision-making powers at the heart of our communities.

In summary, the Conservatives and the SNP Government are not miles apart on the vital issue that we are discussing. As I acknowledged in my opening remarks, we agree on the ambition of securing long-term economic security and prosperity across our communities, and we agree that we want to implement policies that improve outcomes for individuals and families. Where we seem to disagree with the Government is that we want the Scottish Government and the UK Government to work collaboratively and constructively in achieving those results.

We all know that the SNP likes nothing better than spin and grievance, but it cannot cover up the economic incompetence and recklessness that it has demonstrated. All our indicators show that Scotland is falling behind the rest of the UK, but this devolved Government tries to take no responsibility. We have seen it pass the buck so many times, often to local government. We have to recognise that local government has a huge role to play in the community wealth building agenda, but in order for it to do so, it needs to be funded correctly.

The way that this devolved Government treats our local government partners is a disgrace. Let us get behind our local government colleagues and give them the tools and the autonomy that they require to do their jobs. That will benefit our communities across Scotland.

I move amendment S6M-04580.3, to insert at end:

“; agrees that the economic success of Scotland relies on both the UK and Scottish governments working together to develop a set of economic strategies that will deliver a more prosperous society for all; welcomes the UK Government’s £150 million Community Ownership Fund and encourages Scotland’s communities to bid for this funding, and believes that the huge potential of Community Wealth Building is being held back by the unwillingness of the Scottish Government to sufficiently invest in local government.”

15:17  

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

If we were being frank and honest, and if we went around the chamber and asked every member what they meant by “community wealth building”, we would probably find a lot of very different answers. If we went outside the chamber to the street, we might find that people did not know what we were talking about at all. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to establish a consensus and a common understanding, because without that, we cannot make community wealth building successful.

However, let us be clear: in the coming years, we face huge economic challenges. We have still not understood the full costs of Covid, let alone begun to address recovery. We are in the midst of a cost of living emergency, as many Scots face spiralling costs for their heating and travel and to feed themselves.

Before those new unexpected challenges, we have the challenge of meeting our climate change targets, which creates an imperative to overhaul our economy. That need is urgent and—to be frank—it is not clear to me that either the investment or the plans are in place to enable us to meet our 2030 targets.

We need big ideas, and community wealth building could be one of those ideas. I make it clear that, beyond the challenges that I have set out, there are communities up and down Scotland that have never recovered from the loss of once-proud industries such as steel, shipbuilding, mining and manufacturing. We need answers that can address both the most recent issues and those enduring ones, which we in Scotland know only too well. We need big and bold ideas to rebuild and remake our economy. Community wealth building can and should be at the heart of that change, but we need greater clarity from the Scottish Government on its intentions and on the resources that it will bring to bear.

As I said in my intervention on the minister, there were seven mentions of community wealth building in the economic transformation plan, but there was very little clarity on what is meant by that. That clarity is what we need if we are going to make progress. I listened carefully to the minister’s speech, but we heard no detail about how community wealth building will proceed, what it means in a Scottish context as opposed to broader examples and what the first steps will truly be.

Will the member give way?

Yes—I would be grateful for more detail.

Tom Arthur

I am very grateful to Mr Johnson for giving way. The key approach is to recognise that this is bottom up. Local communities are the driver and local authorities are clearly a key anchor institution, as are health boards, further education and industry.

We have the established five-pillar model. We have the work that is going on in Ayrshire, which started in North Ayrshire and now involves all the local authorities in Ayrshire, plus the health board, the Third Sector Interface in North Ayrshire and the college. We have the pilot areas, and other local authorities are pursuing their own areas.

The action that we are taking in the short term is to support all local authorities to develop community wealth building action plans. Different areas are understandably focused on different pillars, but from that learning and through consultation, the objective will be that the legislation that we introduce in the Parliament later in this session will seek to remove barriers and impediments that those who are on the front line have identified, and to consolidate gains.

I hope that that helps to clarify some of the points. The key aspect is the five-pillar model that has been in place North Ayrshire and the wider Ayrshire region for some time.

Daniel Johnson

I am grateful for that lengthy intervention. It provides some clarity, but I think that we need to go further. If we look at examples, both here in Scotland in North Ayrshire and elsewhere, we see that a firm commitment needs investment as well as intent. It goes beyond simply removing barriers and looks at changing the institutional frameworks.

Community wealth building, when done properly, has the capacity to make change, but it has to have that focus. We currently have good examples, even closer to home, that we might not consider to be community wealth building, such as the Edinburgh Solar Co-operative. Even Lothian Buses is a great example of municipal ownership.

We must learn the lessons, both recent and in the past. I would take small issue with the statement that community wealth building is a brand new concept. I firmly believe that the values at the heart of it are ensuring that assets and economic means serve and are accountable to those who depend on them, and those values are absolutely vital. They are enduring Labour values: ensuring that the means of production are as widely held as possible for the benefit of the many, not the few.

We will support the Government motion, but our amendment seeks to ensure that it has meaning and purpose.

We will not support the Conservative amendment, however, for two reasons. First, its focus on local authority funding is somewhat dangerous. This cannot be viewed as a substitute for local authority funding; it must be additional to it. What is more, I do not think that the levelling-up funding—which is a poor substitute for the funding that it replaces—is worth supporting at all. Ultimately, it rings somewhat hollow to hear arguments about local authority funding from a party that has cut by half the funding for local authorities in England.

We must go further. We have a cluttered landscape of agencies and disconnected initiatives when it comes to regional economic development. To be truly successful, it must be embedded at that scale. At the moment, city region deals have little accountability and little joined-up action with the local authorities in their areas. If we are to be successful, we must have that regional lens, because Scotland’s regional economic inequalities are gross and unjust.

There is a short distance of 60 miles between Dundee and Edinburgh, but we see huge inequalities between them—as much as 30 per cent in terms of the hourly output per worker. That might be a narrow and cold economic measure, but it reflects real differences in wages, life opportunities and the ability of people to feed themselves and their families.

Going further, we must also look to infrastructure and transport. In some ways, I am disappointed that the Liberal Democrat amendment was not selected because, ultimately, we can do all these things. We can create the jobs, but if people do not have the ability to travel to those jobs, they will serve little purpose. Infrastructure and transport are absolutely key—a point that I believe that my colleague Pauline McNeill will elaborate on further. The track record of the current Scottish Government is not a good one. We see the public transport system in meltdown because of the Government’s failure to plan and to invest. It is not just about the two ferries that it cannot build; it is about the many other ferries that it should have been building over the past decade, which, frankly, it has failed to do.

In summary, we cautiously welcome the Government’s enthusiasm for community wealth building. However, a huge amount of detail is still needed. There must be a commitment to provide long-term resources; community wealth building should not be just another fad or tick-box exercise. Ultimately, we must embed community wealth building at local, regional and national levels. Quite simply, community wealth building is not ambitious enough; we need to have ambition for national wealth building.

I move amendment S6M-04580.1, to insert at end:

“; believes that the Scottish Government should provide more detail to its Community Wealth Building proposals to ensure it is embedded within a clear regional economic framework and a coherent and ambitious industrial strategy to support post-pandemic economic development and local job creation; further believes that the necessary legislative, institutional change and investment must be available to deliver the Community Wealth Building that Scotland needs and that can be translated into regional and national growth, and calls on the Scottish Government to revise all public procurement policies to ensure that Community Wealth Building is embedded at every level.”

15:25  

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I am trying not to be grumpy, but I have to say that SNP ministers love these kinds of debates. They craftily entice us to daydream about the future, to think big, to think out of the box and to look at the stars—to think about things other than what is going on in our country right now—in a desperate attempt to distract us. Today, we get the promise of pilots and action plans; all we need now is a working group and another consultation and then we will have the full set. However, we should look at the reality.

Tom Arthur

In case Mr Rennie misheard me, I note that I did not give a promise of pilots—the pilots already exist. This is happening and has been happening for years. There has been £3 million of investment in the Ayrshire growth deal. I want to reassure Mr Rennie and disabuse him of any notion that this is simply a mission statement or rhetoric. The work is happening on the ground, and we are deepening and accelerating it.

Willie Rennie

Well, that excites me greatly. I am ecstatic that the minister has now got the pilots actually working. What about doing stuff?

What about doing stuff up in Lochaber? We were promised 2,000 jobs on the back of the £586 million financial guarantee that was provided to GFG Alliance Ltd for the aluminium smelter. What do we have? We have a handful of jobs—nowhere near the 2,000 that were promised.

The First Minister went to Fort William and promised that there would be a community land transaction, which is exactly what the minister was talking about today. Jahama Estates Mamore Holdings Ltd, as it is known, was supposed to benefit the people who live on or near the estate. I will tell the minister what we have had so far: the transfer of a quarter-acre car park. That is not community wealth building.

Let us take offshore renewables. The Scottish Government sold ScotWind on the cheap. The value of the successful bids in Scotland is far below what we have managed to get elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In this country, we got £100,000 per square kilometre. Round 4 in England and Wales achieved £879 million, which is £361,000 per square kilometre—almost four times as much as we got here. The leases here were sold off on the cheap.

Daniel Johnson

My understanding is that, in relation to value, the leases were sold off for just 5 per cent of the total revenues that will be generated. Does Willie Rennie agree that we have little more than platitudes from the Government in relation to securing supply chains? Is that not a failure of national wealth building, right there?

Willie Rennie

Absolutely. What is worse is that the Government has lumped together all the contracts in a massive leasing round. What does that mean? It means that the work will go abroad, because we will not be able to ramp up the capacity or the workforce to meet demand. There will be a massive glut of work all at the same time. That is hardly community wealth building.

We cannot even manage to build the 54 jackets for the Neart na Gaoithe wind farm in the Forth. We are getting to build just eight jackets. What is even worse is that, as well as jackets being shipped in from the other side of the planet, we are having to ship in workers from Portugal to build those eight jackets in Fife. That is a disgrace; it is not community wealth building. While workers in Methil and Leven are paying, through their electricity bills, for the wind farm to be built, the work is being shipped in from abroad, and so are the workers. That is not community wealth building.

We can look at what Reform Scotland said this week about the big, grand promise—for what has felt like decades—of the Scottish National Investment Bank. Ross Brown, from the University of St Andrews, said that the Government is going to have to make up its mind whether it is a green infrastructure development bank or whether it will invest in communities and small businesses. He said:

“The two are very different objectives and using the same instrument to achieve both seems at best ill-advised and at worst foolhardy.”

That is not investing in our communities, and it is certainly not community wealth building.

Depriving our island communities of their first chance for a decent summer tourism season because of the calamity of the ferry services is also not community wealth building. Bookings will be cancelled because people cannot be sure that they can get to our islands. Just as people on our islands get an opportunity to build some wealth in their communities, it is snatched away from them by an incompetent Government that cannot build two ferries. As a result, people on the islands lose out.

Then, there are the rail services. Across Scotland, 700 rail services have been cancelled by the Government within weeks of it taking control of the trains. Communities across Scotland will have community wealth building opportunities snatched away from them because the Government cannot even run a train service.

That all sounds negative, but it is the reality for people in our communities, so while we have these lofty debates and look to the stars about community wealth building with a grand plan and wonderful pilots, people are suffering. The Parliament needs to keep its feet on the ground and to understand what is happening in our communities, because if it does not it will quickly become out of touch. I am afraid that the Government is already out of touch if it thinks that this debate is a substitute for delivery of services in our communities. Let us get real and have a proper debate about real things.

15:31  

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

Community wealth building is real for many people, and they will be absolutely insulted by what we just heard from Willie Rennie.

The idea of community wealth building has come as part of the development of a new economic growth model of wellbeing, in which we take a more rounded approach to what success looks like. It embraces the strength, ingenuity, enterprise and creativity of local people to shape and develop locally sustainable economies. That must be a way forward.

The SNP Government has supported the development of that wellbeing approach by being a founding member of Wellbeing Economy Alliance’s wellbeing economy Governments partnership, and by piloting six community wealth building pilots.

We must rethink our models of growth and delivery. The pandemic, recognition of the role that local people play in our communities, the importance of local secure supply chains, economic growth and raising and spending wealth locally all provide further impetus to the agenda.

The Association for Public Service Excellence—APSE—report, “The new municipalism: Taking back entrepreneurship”, is a challenge and an opportunity for local councils, and it sits well within community wealth building. The pioneering creative and community-led approach of SNP-run East Ayrshire Council is an excellent example of it.

The Government motion agrees that we need shorter supply chains to support net zero ambitions. In the West Lothian Council area, the Scottish Government’s place-based investment fund has supported West Lothian College to develop a local skills supply chain for net zero with a passivhaus and a retrofit house to help in the expansion of locally sourced and trained skilled workers in that vital field, with almost £500,000 to construct its training centre.

The benefits of sustainability and resilience are critical to the agenda, and if the minister has not done so, I suggest that Willie Rennie and other MSPs read the Economy and Fair Work Committee’s report into sustainability and resilience of supply chains, and our comments on measuring carbon miles in public procurement.

Anchor public institutions can support sustainable and resilient local sources of wealth—from food to energy. Asset ownership of community-focused buildings and energy sources means that they can be used to further community wealth building development; they are doing so already.

The minister invited us to consider what elements we can consider in developing policy and law. My first advice is to legislate only if necessary. Smart, nimble and enthusiastic policy making by inspired local leadership can often produce quicker results.

On procurement, legislation might be required to give local partners confidence to procure locally. The quest for value for money has often led to choices in favour of supply chains that are now globally vulnerable and which are not well suited to community wealth building.

Will the member take an intervention?

Fiona Hyslop

I will proceed. Unlike the main spokesperson for the Conservatives, I want to address the motion.

We need leadership and partnership. The community wealth building model involves local authorities and their community planning partners ensuring that collective investment decisions focus on how local economies can be helped to grow and flourish. However, there must be a process of genuine partnership, rather than a repackaging of a centralised command and control model by councils or Government. It must be locally and community led.

Risk must be shared equitably, so we need to think differently about risk. Last week, the chief executive of Community Enterprise in Scotland, Martin Avila, told the Economy and Fair Work Committee:

“Some of the previous Scottish Government rental guarantee schemes were there for developers to be able to take risks in order to develop new housing stock, but they were not necessarily open to community owners. We were therefore telling the private sector that its risk would be underwritten by the state, because the rental income guarantee scheme guaranteed that it would receive an income, but that was not open to socially focused organisations. Often, as a state, we say that we understand that private enterprise is risky, so we will incentivise and de-risk it, and it will get to privatise the value that is captured. However, when it comes to community organisations that want to socialise the economic value that they create, we say that we are really not sure that they can carry their plan out without failing. We have to end that false equivalence”.—[Official Report, Economy and Fair Work Committee, 18 May 2022; c 11.]

On funding, we need to be warned about place funding that is spread thinly across individual projects that councils already wanted to support, rather than being focused on generating growth, leveraging partner and private funding, and building a local customer base.

As far as challenges are concerned, anchor projects in district heating and energy, including local solar generation and electric vehicle charging, are being developed, and local energy companies are an example of asset building as the way forward. However, the issue comes back to what is statutory and what is not, and what the capacity and capability of local councils are to resource projects with people and expertise.

Town centres matter, but each and every one is different, and leadership and skills might be found in various places. If the Government has explicitly said that business improvement districts need to be consulted on place-based funding and there is evidence that they have not been, the minister should be concerned.

When Parliament discussed our immediate recovery from the early part of the pandemic in the summer of 2020, I said that we needed not just evolution, but a revolution, in our economic thinking. The part that community wealth building is playing in the wellbeing economy drive is a revolution that is happening in plain sight, but is not often heralded as such.

Therefore, I hope that this afternoon’s debate can act as a clarion call to herald that new era for Scotland. The difference is that the Scottish Government and the Scottish National Party trust the people of Scotland. We trust our communities, we put faith in them and we respect them by driving forward the community wealth building agenda. I emphasise to Mr Rennie that that agenda respects the communities of our country.

15:38  

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. As members are aware, it is my belief and the belief of my party that the development of community is essential for the prosperity of Scotland. We can call that process “community wealth building”, but it is important to define what we mean by that. In my view, it involves creating an environment in which people want to live, work and play, and where the essence of community interaction—that intangible feeling of belonging—can grow. In that way, community wellbeing and, therefore, community wealth are developed.

As I have said many times, I believe that, in recent decades, the heart has been ripped out of so many communities as a policy of centralisation has been pursued by the Scottish Government, to the detriment of those communities.

We are talking about the ability of communities to come together in a shared interest, whether that is sport, art, music or drama. An issue that I have mentioned numerous times, but to which lip service has been paid, is the need for all members of a community to have the ability to turn up to watch their children participate in an activity on a Saturday morning, and for parents and friends to be able to be part of that, whether in an official capacity or otherwise.

However, community assets have been systematically ripped out or allowed to fall into disrepair, and the ability of communities to engage has been eroded. Too often these days, if people are to participate in any kind of activity, they must come home from work or school and then go somewhere else. That affects the less well off to a much greater degree.

We must look to schools much more for their facilities to become community hubs. We must open up the school estate and use it for community activity. That is surely now more important than ever. Open spaces for people to play and learn in should be in all our communities; my colleague, Liz Smith, has long championed that. Such opportunities are becoming rarer.

Connecting communities is another issue that has been allowed to drift. It has such an impact on a community’s ability to grow and prosper.

Ever since I entered the Scottish Parliament, we in the Conservative Party have been crying out for investment in transport infrastructure, especially in the south-west of Scotland, in my case. Ministers should speak to people in the communities along the A77 and A75, not to mention the A76, A72, A71 and A70, and ask them how easy it is to get to work and to access basic service amenities. How on earth does the Scottish Government expect itself to be taken seriously discussing community wealth building when huge swathes of the country remain ignored, with infrastructure that has not been invested in for decades? We have a Scottish Government that is so insular that it will not engage with the UK Government on its desire to make extra investment in our community infrastructure, as my colleague Douglas Lumsden pointed out.

On the train link in the south-west, I was going to suggest that it needs a significant investment to bring it up to the standard that is required, along with investing in train services generally, opening up stations and rail links, and encouraging the use of public transport. However, that is a bit of a moot point at the moment, given the fact that so few trains are running. There are two trains a day from Stranraer to Glasgow, and, in some cases, the time of last trains to busy Ayrshire stations will be brought back by hours, with some final journeys leaving Glasgow as early as 6.20. Instead of community wealth building, communities are being cut off, so when the Scottish Government has the audacity to mention net zero in its motion, we are left wondering how far out of touch with communities it really is. The only way for communities to reach out just now is by car, and those will not be electric cars because rural communities are the very last places to get electric charging points.

I want to mention public procurement, as I recognise that it was an element in Daniel Johnson’s amendment. I agree with him completely that we should invest money in the local economy wherever possible. Surely that goes without saying. However, again, it is not true for this Government. For as long as I have been a member of the Scottish Parliament, we have been debating with the Scottish Government the need to revise public procurement policy, and encouraging and cajoling it to do so, to no avail.

Specifically, the public procurement of food should be an easy win. We should support our local food producers, the rural economy and the health of our children in school, patients in hospitals and all other public office staff. It is frustrating for me to listen to Fiona Hyslop talk about East Ayrshire. East Ayrshire Council has shown us for years that that can be done and the way to do it, yet the rest of the country is not following suit. How frustrating! Here we are still importing the majority of our food, which is often of a standard that is far lower than that of local produce.

Does the member not recognise that that is exactly what the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill is all about? Already, 90 per cent of the red meat that goes into Scottish schools is ordered from Scottish suppliers.

Brian Whittle

I thank Jim Fairlie for his intervention but I must disagree with him. That is what the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill should be about, but it is an absolute shell. The Scotland Excel public procurement policy shows that something like 16 per cent of the food that we use in schools comes from Scotland, and that is an absolute shame on the Scottish Government.

Community wealth building is about so much more than pounds and pence. It is about engendering a sense of community pride and creating an environment in which people want to live, work and play. It is about giving communities the opportunity to come together and connect to other like-minded communities. If we do that, the financial wealth will follow. Sadly, the Scottish Government has shown that it is unable to grasp the meaning of community wealth building.

15:44  

Collette Stevenson (East Kilbride) (SNP)

Community wealth building will help to build resilience in local economies and create a fairer and more secure economic future, and it will support the development of land for community benefit. As has been said, it relies on five pillars: progressive procurement, about which I will speak a bit more later; shared ownership of the local economy; socially just use of land and property; making financial power work for local places; and fair employment and just labour markets. On that final pillar, the Scottish Government’s fair work first approach is very welcome, and there are many real living wage accredited employers across the country.

Scotland has been described as a global leader in the community wealth building movement. I am biased, but I believe that East Kilbride is doing well, too. We have good foundations in place from which to push forward and make the most of new opportunities, including the many enterprises that follow the principles of the community wealth building pillars.

For example, East Kilbride Credit Union offers an ethical and safe way to save, and it exists to serve the local community. We have fantastic social enterprises as well, such as the Furnishing Service, which is led by Randle Wilson. It has won many awards from Scotland Excel over the years, created many employment opportunities for young and disabled people, and diverted more than 1,000 tonnes of products from landfill.

There are many other companies in the town that are committed to employee wellbeing and fair employment practices. There are also several employee-owned businesses, including Novograf, Grossart Associates and Clansman Dynamics.

In East Kilbride, we are also lucky to have excellent public spaces such as Langlands Moss, Calderglen country park and the James Hamilton heritage loch, as well as the Glen Esk pocket park in St Leonards and the newly designated local nature reserve in Mossneuk. Between them, those areas offer amazing benefits to locals, including great walking routes, bike trails, water sports, outdoor classrooms, sports facilities and cafes. I understand that a variety of flora and fauna enjoys those areas, too. Many community groups help to protect and enhance those spaces, including the Friends of Langlands Moss and the East Kilbride development trust.

As well as community-minded organisations such as those that I have mentioned, the public sector will have a crucial role to play. From local authorities to the national health service, the large budgets that are available to public sector organisations could be used to unlock wider benefits.

That includes pension funds. When I sat on the pension board for the Strathclyde Pension Fund, we were very keen and worked alongside trade unions to make sure that the direct investment portfolio was used at local level to boost local economies and support ethical businesses, so we followed many of the principles of community wealth building.

Another way that public sector organisations can effect change is through procurement. By applying progressive procurement practices, there is a big opportunity to create local, well-paid jobs and maximise community benefit. Supply chain visibility is an important part of that. When large companies win contracts, we should be able to see where their subcontracting goes. Those processes should be open and transparent, so that we can easily identify the community benefit of big contracts.

I have spoken before about the Supplier Development Programme, which does great work with small businesses to help them to understand procurement processes and to highlight the opportunities that are available in subcontracting. Shortening the supply chain by using local enterprises delivers a clear benefit in local communities, through employment opportunities and business growth. It also supports us in reaching our climate targets, by reducing the carbon footprint of products. The proposed community wealth building bill could help by developing procurement practices to support local economies and small businesses. [Interruption.] No, I would like to make progress. The bill would also encourage school canteens and hospitals to use more locally produced food.

Community wealth building offers us great opportunities to improve our local communities, support fair employment, take a place-based approach to the economy and deliver on our climate targets. A big thing for me is the use of progressive procurement in the public sector, so that big contracts support local and ethical businesses and create and protect good-quality jobs.

If we take anything from the experience of the pandemic, it should be the beliefs that we can effect real change, that we should protect and enhance our local spaces and that we must build a fairer and more secure economic future. By putting the emphasis on the local, community wealth building is the key to that.

I call Richard Leonard, to be followed by Alasdair Allan.

15:50  

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

There is a climate emergency. People are working for the economy, but the economy is not working for the people. We have massive inequalities in income, wealth and power, which are growing ever wider. In one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world, life expectancy is not going up—it is going down. One in four children in Scotland is living in grinding poverty, and yet two out of three of those children are being brought up in households where at least one adult is in work. What a shocking indictment of our low pay economy; what a shocking indictment of capitalism; and what a shocking indictment of the SNP-Green Government Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work who—on £98,000 a year—took to the BBC at the weekend to lecture the working people of Scotland to be sensible and to exercise pay restraint! Shame on him.

I have long argued that building an economic strategy around foreign direct investment is a catastrophic error. According to the Scottish Government’s own latest annual business statistics, 82 per cent of all large businesses in Scotland, accounting for 65 per cent of employment and three quarters of all turnover, now have their ultimate base—their headquarters, their ownership—outside Scotland. That is not a mark of economic strength but a sign of parlous economic weakness. We have a branch plant economy in which far too much of the wealth that is generated is extracted and then exported.

That is precisely why a community wealth building approach to economic development is now more critical than ever. That is why it needs to move from the fringe to the mainstream. It is not a refinement that we need, which is what the minister said—it is a revolution. That is why simply trying to create a pro-growth, pro-business, post-Brexit environment is to fundamentally misunderstand both the scale of the challenge that we face and the direction that the economy now needs to go in.

Let me be as plain to Government ministers as I can be.

I am confused by what the member just said. Is he actually against business?

Richard Leonard

No. I am in favour of business building from the bottom up. The problem with the member’s party’s Government policy is that, for too long, it has been reliant on foreign direct investment as the only engine of growth. We should be looking to the people, we should be looking to local businesses and we should be looking to the wealth that is in our communities as the basis for economic development, because traditional solutions will not work. We need an economic plan—a jobs-first industrial strategy that is investment led, people centred and net zero and manufacturing driven. We need a new economic strategy of state intervention to secure popular control rather than simply popular intervention to secure state control.

Let me give a practical example of community wealth building. For nearly two decades, we have had a land reform act that gives communities the statutory right to buy the land that they live on. So, the time is long overdue for an industrial reform act that gives working people a statutory right to buy the business or enterprise that they work in, because why should not the people who create the wealth own the wealth that they create? It is my intention to bring a bill to Parliament that will seek to deliver that in due course, because I firmly believe that the time has come when we need to be radical in our thinking, transformative in our vision and resolute in our action. That means using the financial firepower that we already have, such as our pension funds.

Strathclyde Pension Fund is the second-biggest local government fund in the UK, with assets worth £26 billion, and yet it could undertake so much more primary investment activity locally instead of relying so much on secondary investment activity and the buying and selling of stocks and shares that benefit economies on the other side of the world.

We should use the financial firepower of public procurement, where we spend £13 billion a year in Scotland, but again, far too much of that ends up in the hands of large global corporations, too many of which are registered in tax havens.

We need a new path that is based on the principles of economic, social and environmental justice, because we and the people who we represent know that the rigged way that our economy is run and the unequal share-out of the fruits of their labour is not the natural order.

We know and they know that there is an alternative way of organising the economic system. We caught a glimpse of the possibilities of community wealth building in North Ayrshire; we know what has worked in Preston; and we have seen the benefits internationally in Cleveland, Ohio.

Let us make community and worker ownership, climate and social justice, equality and democracy, decentralisation and diversity central to the kind of economy that we want to build after the pandemic, so that every job is a green job and the whole economy is a social economy. Let us not merely debate it; let us go out there and do it.

15:56  

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

This debate is timely. For many decades, wage stagnation, low productivity and huge wealth inequalities have often seemed like entrenched features of the Scottish economy. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, there has never been a more important time to examine our approaches to local economic development.

Contrary to some of what we have heard this afternoon, what has been outlined by the minister on community wealth building is a people-centred approach to local economic development that redirects wealth back into the local economy, and places control and benefits into the hands of local people.

The Scottish Government is working with five areas, including my constituency of Na h-Eileanan an Iar, to produce bespoke community wealth building action plans. Community wealth building is underpinned by five central principles: progressive procurement; fair employment and just labour markets; shared ownership of the local economy; socially just use of land and property; and making financial power work for local places.

In many ways, it is difficult to think of a part of the country that is more suited to the ideas behind community wealth building than my constituency. The Western Isles has the highest rate of living wage employers anywhere in Scotland. Its strong tradition of crofting encourages durable links between communities and the land, and it has been a trailblazer for community land ownership, with a significant 70 per cent of people living on community-owned estates.

Community land ownership has to be an essential aspect of any community wealth building strategy that we talk about. There are people—perhaps even members of the Scottish Parliament—who would argue that the way that land is used is far more important than how it is owned.

However, community wealth building recognises the intertwined nature of land ownership and land use. Different forms of ownership come with different forms of management that in turn determine how land is used. I can think of countless examples in my constituency that illustrate that. For example, the West Harris Trust has done fantastic work since the community bought the land from the Scottish Government in 2010.

At that time, the population of the area was unsustainable; a very low proportion of residents were of working age and 35 per cent of the housing stock was self-catering cottages or holiday homes. The trust wanted to attract young families into the area and focused on creating employment and housing prospects for them.

Although those problems of fragility have certainly not gone away, since 2010 the trust has created opportunities for small local businesses to flourish, sold housing plots and enabled the construction of new housing units for rented social housing, and as part of a shared equity scheme, it has created jobs in the trust itself and a further 20 jobs at its purpose-built arts, food and entertainment centre.

Those numbers may sound small, but in a community the size of west Harris, they have a disproportionate impact. As a major employer, the trust provides a range of opportunities for local suppliers and—crucially, and this is where the relevance is—it ensures that all the income that it derives from its facilities is reinvested back into the community for local projects.

That has all had a real impact, with a 20 per cent increase in population since the trust was established.

In contrast to west Harris—this comes back to my point about the relevance to this debate of community ownership of estates—is another community in my constituency, Great Bernera. It faces similar demographic challenges to Harris, and its people have no less a sense of community and no less a wealth of talent to draw upon. However, unlike west Harris, the island remains in absentee private ownership, despite the best efforts of the Great Bernera Community Development Trust.

While the community landlord in west Harris is a driver of development, in Bernera, I have heard complaints from constituents about demands for large sums of money before the landlord will allow legitimate transactions in relation to tenancies to proceed; he raises objections to planning permission for new housing and refuses to engage with crofters seeking to exercise their legal right to buy their crofts.

Local residents say that those actions are prohibiting the island’s development and hastening its depopulation. The island has already lost its local shop and school in recent years, while the community has been unsuccessfully trying to persuade the absentee landlord to co-operate with its buyout efforts.

That is why land ownership matters in the context of the debate that we are having about investing in communities. The best people to decide the future of our communities across Scotland are the people who live in those communities.

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

What would the member say to those communities that have strongly opposed planning applications, only for their decisions to be subsequently overturned by the SNP Scottish Government? We are talking about 400 instances in the past few years and that number is increasing year on year. What does the member say to those communities, whose voices are not being heard?

Alasdair Allan

I would have thought that the voices within communities are heard through the planning application process, and that process has always given a role to ministers.

As an MSP representing part of the Highlands and Islands, I am heartily sick of one or two people with little or no connection with the region trying to impose on communities their notions about what the land should be used for. With the expected growth of natural capital markets and the increasing number of businesses and organisations perhaps seeking to become “green lairds”, it will be more important than ever for us to do as the minister is setting out today—to guard against models of ownership that do not have local communities at their heart.

16:02  

Maggie Chapman (North East Scotland) (Green)

The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the world, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Vast amounts of wealth and assets are held by a small number of people. Indeed, The Sunday Times rich list shows that the number of billionaires in the UK is at an all-time high. There are 177 billionaires—people who saw their wealth rise by 9.4 per cent over the past year.

Scotland’s top 10 billionaires have a combined wealth of over £23 billion. At a time when so many people are way beyond facing the choice between heating their homes and eating—they can afford neither—it is clear that our economic system is broken.

Current models of economic development have failed to redistribute wealth and to provide adequately for all people in all our communities. Our economy is far from well, so today’s debate is both welcome and important.

Community wealth building will not fix all our economy’s ills, but it is an attempt to roll back one of the most damaging Thatcherite initiatives of the 1980s—that of moving public spending from something that should benefit the public to something that benefited the big corporations that were invited to tender for public services. Compulsory competitive tendering has resulted in the funnelling of money out of our communities. For too long, we have heard that bundling contracts creates efficiency, that the cheapest bid is the best and that the public pound should be used to increase private profits, not public good. Enough.

We know that we need to be more resilient and that strong, resourceful and innovative communities are better able to organise and work together to look out for each other and improve the lives of all their members. Community wealth building offers a meaningful way to support that work, and we are not starting from scratch. We can build on the social solidarity that developed in many places during the pandemic, and we can put community organising and wealth building at the heart of our plans for a green recovery.

We must do that as we continue to deal with the pandemic and, of course, tackle climate breakdown. We must do it in a way that builds the foundations of a new economy—one that is focused on community wealth.

In other words, we want to re-establish a community-based way of life: one that sees the value in, and of, society; one that increases economic self-reliance and local control over people’s environments and their decision-making structures; and one that sees the connections and interdependencies between the economy, our environment and our society.

That approach means that people and their labour must matter more than capital. Our local and regional economies must recognise that people matter more than corporate bottom lines. We cannot let the market and capital call all the shots if we want to build community wealth. Thriving local and regional economies require local ownership, whereby the control and economic advantages are spread more broadly—for example, through co-operative, community or employee ownership models. That guards against the extraction of wealth on behalf of those at the top.

Earlier, the minister highlighted the importance of grass-roots engagement and participation to community wealth building. We need active participation in strong and robust democratic structures, because, despite what neoliberalism tells us, communities are not made up of isolated individuals who are engaged in civic life only as passive consumers. Localising investment and capital circulation matters, too. When goods and services are produced and purchased locally, that money stays in the community for longer, because local businesses are more likely to spend locally. That translates into greater local prosperity, greater community stability and a tighter-knit network of local people and businesses, which are all key to building community wealth. Imagine if we used our collective community wealth for good, rather than to fuel the casino economy that does little to provide for all.

However, building community is about much more than just having money circulating locally; it is about the power that comes from building lasting relationships of mutual support. Fostering effective collaboration between anchor organisations, local government and neighbourhood residents is not just a matter of convenience or capacity; it is utterly intrinsic to the project of community wealth building.

Place really matters, but place making does not happen by accident. Places need coherent strategies in order that local assets work to build local wealth. In addition, as others have mentioned, there need to be coherent connections to transport and other infrastructure that is vital to community survival.

In closing, I record my thanks to organisations including Community Land Scotland, the Development Trusts Association Scotland and Community Enterprise in Scotland for highlighting the vital work of anchor organisations. I thank them, too, for highlighting what we can learn from other community-focused legislation that the Parliament has passed and for pointing out the need to now make things happen to a timescale that does not lead to drift and disinterest.

Last week, Pauline Smith from the Development Trusts Association Scotland told the Economy and Fair Work Committee that

“we are not reinventing the wheel here. Different terminology is used … Development trusts, CEIS and other agencies have supported those organisations to create community wealth and make things happen in their communities. To be honest, I think that we just need to work together, and we all have a part to play.”—[Official Report, Economy and Fair Work Committee, 18 May; c 8.]

Let us just get on with it.

16:08  

Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate.

When I looked into the work of the Democracy Collaborative, which is led by Ted Howard, I realised the huge potential of community wealth building. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but the bottom-up approach centres around democratic ownership of the economy and community self-determination. I am saying that it is not just a one-size-fits-all approach, because what happens in the central belt and in Glasgow will be different from what happens in rural areas such as the south-west of Scotland.

I lived in California for many years, where I witnessed wealth inequalities and the consequences. The Democracy Collaborative has outlined what I want to see in Scotland—wealth redistribution and benefit to our communities. That approach is in sharp contrast to what the UK Government is doing with its hard-right, individualist policies. By its fundamental design, today’s corporate capitalist system takes wealth that would otherwise reside in local communities and concentrates it in the hands of a small elite. The Office for National Statistics reported that there are an estimated 27.8 million households in the UK and that 263,000 of them control 45 per cent of our country’s wealth.

Ted Howard’s model of community wealth building proposes an economic model with more local, good-quality jobs; improved access to public contracts for local businesses, which is particularly important for our agriculture and forestry community; more land being placed in community ownership; and support being offered to businesses that are exploring employee ownership.

Community wealth building supports renewable energy development, with the wealth that is generated being distributed back to the community. For me, that means the potential to develop renewable offshore energy in the south-west—perhaps in the Solway Firth. I would be interested in exploring that potential in the next round of ScotWind licences. When I visited Eyemouth harbour last year, it was evident that high-value jobs worth millions of pounds had been and will be brought to the community through renewable energy investment.

When it comes to how money is spent and how services are commissioned by our institutions, cost is often the dominant determining factor in who gets the contract. Environmental credentials, social value and decent employment conditions tend to be weaker considerations. We need that to change.

As others have said, with community wealth building we can create legal change in our procurement processes. That can ensure that small local and medium-sized enterprises and employee-owned businesses support local jobs and have a greater tendency to recirculate wealth directly to our communities. For example, it can allow our agriculture community to provide local produce to our schools, hospitals, social care settings, prisons and other institutions, which is something that I have been pursuing in my area but in relation to which I have faced local bureaucratic barriers. Therefore, I welcome the Government’s commitment to reforming procurement processes, and I ask for a commitment that that will be taken forward at pace.

Ahead of the debate, I spoke with Rob Davidson, the community wealth building manager with South of Scotland Enterprise. The minister has described some of the work that SOSE has already done with registered social landlords. SOSE hit the ground running at the beginning of the pandemic, giving practical support to businesses fae Selkirk to Stranraer to promote community wealth principles.

Does the member welcome the UK Government’s community ownership fund, which has seen £175,000 being spent on New Galloway town hall and £300,000 going to Whithorn ReBuild?

Emma Harper

I welcome some of the funding, but I do not like the fact that the money is going to places in relation to subject areas that are devolved to the Scottish Government. I would ask whether the member is happy that this place is being tramped upon in devolved areas by the UK Government.

SOSE is working with Stranraer Furniture Project in relation to the Community Reuse shop, led by project manager Paul Smith, to support that social enterprise to grow and expand. It is also incorporating fair work practices. From a phone call this morning, I know that the Furniture Project now has 22 employees and is working to the wider benefit of the community. I encourage members to look at the wide range of activities that Paul Smith and his team are undertaking.

In Castle Douglas, Stewartry Care, a provider of homecare with almost 100 employees, is beginning a Democracy Collaborative model of employee ownership. That is already happening. Some members are saying that we are looking at the stars and that this is a pie-in-the-sky idea, but that is not the case—it is happening on the ground, right now. With SOSE’s help, Stewartry Care is encouraging employees to take leadership and ownership roles in the company.

One final example of a Dumfries and Galloway community wealth building trailblazer is Jas P Wilson, a forestry equipment manufacturer and distributor in Dalbeattie. The company has donated a car to the local first responders, so that they do not have to use their own car, it has financed premises for a local playgroup and it has supported the local theatre group, the Birchvale Players, in its move to new premises.

All those companies demonstrate how community wealth building is already working across Dumfries and Galloway. I welcome these examples across the south of Scotland, and I invite the minister to come and visit any of them, if his diary allows.

Community wealth building is a practical, place-based and focused model that can play a central role in growing Scotland’s wellbeing economy. A community wealth building approach puts an emphasis on local people and on ownership, with a view to growing the number of people who have a genuine stake in the economy. I want more people and local communities in Scotland to have a bigger stake in our economy, share the ownership and build resilience to create a fairer and more secure economic future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I gently remind all members that they should remain in the chamber for at least two speeches after they have made their speeches. I will not name and shame, but periodically these reminders are useful.

16:15  

Finlay Carson (Galloway and West Dumfries) (Con)

It goes without saying that anything that helps Scotland’s economy has to be warmly welcomed, particularly if support is being provided at a local level, and, yes, community wealth building is a step towards achieving that goal.

The core principles of community wealth building include procurement, whereby people are encouraged to buy and spend locally in order to support businesses in their area and, importantly, protect and, if possible, create new employment opportunities.

Community wealth building can bring positive moves towards improved use of land and assets to ensure that our communities and businesses make better use of land and property to support regeneration opportunities.

In plural ownership, wealth that is generated in a specific area will remain there to support new and existing businesses, including social and community enterprises, co-operatives and employee-owned businesses. That is particularly important in rural areas where, far too often, projects create short-term employment and benefit but the wealth that is generated—for example, with wind farms and forestry—soon leaves the region.

On the Conservative side of the chamber, we welcome schemes that support community wealth building, many of which are supported through the UK Government’s local support schemes, such as the shared prosperity and levelling up funds. Those schemes provide local communities with a greater say on where funds should be spent and which projects need to be supported.

That is a great improvement on local funding, compared to the SNP’s cuts to local budgets and its centralising of decisions, because such schemes effectively give local communities their voices back—and rightly so. Local communities absolutely need their voices to be listened to, because the SNP Government is ignoring them by overturning nearly 400 local planning decisions since 2017.

Tom Arthur

The member raised that point earlier in an intervention about the planning appeals process. This is not a loaded question, because I genuinely want to know—in all sincerity, does he think that there should be an appeals process in the planning system?

Finlay Carson

I absolutely do, but the problem is that a disproportionate number of locally made decisions are subsequently overturned by the Scottish Government. Since 2017, nearly 400 decisions have been overturned and there were more last year than ever before.

Increasingly, we are witnessing the SNP Government ring fencing more of Scottish councils’ budgets, and the ring-fenced amount now stands at more than half a billion pounds. That is hardly democracy.

Council budgets are being continually squeezed. For example, Dumfries and Galloway Council faces an estimated £12.8 million funding gap for the coming year.

Therefore, it is little wonder that councils of all political persuasions have welcomed the UK Government’s introduction of a variety of schemes, such as the levelling up scheme, which will provide £1.5 billion to support city and growth deals in every part of this country, including the Borderlands inclusive growth deal—a unique, cross-border collaboration that will deliver a multimillion-pound investment to Dumfries and Galloway over the next 10 years.

Emma Harper

Does the member not think that it is a bit disproportionate that the Scottish Government has given £20 million more for the Borderlands growth deal than the UK Government has invested? Is that levelling up or is that just losing out?

Finlay Carson, I can give you the time back.

Finlay Carson

I think that Emma Harper must be confused. There is a difference in the funding because the Scottish Government spends on devolved issues and the UK Government spends on reserved issues. I thought that Ms Harper might have known that.

The levelling up scheme aims to improve the long-term prosperity of our communities while enhancing the environment.

Will the member take an intervention?

Finlay Carson

I am sorry, but I have taken enough interventions.

Aspects of the deal, which is worth £425 million, are still being developed, but the projects, which I am sure Emma Harper will welcome, include the Stranraer marina redevelopment, the redevelopment of the former nuclear power station at Chapelcross and the creation of the dairy nexus by the Scottish Rural University College at its Barony campus, which will develop long-term innovative solutions for forage-based dairy farming.

Money will also be spent on the 7stanes network of mountain bike trails. In addition, Borderlands will improve connectivity and deliver skills and innovation that will ultimately support the longer-term resilience of towns and communities in my region.

As members will appreciate, there is great excitement surrounding the potential of the growth deal, and rightly so, in an area that has repeatedly been starved of any proper investment. It is anticipated that the Borderlands deal will deliver an additional 5,500 jobs, attract more than 4 million extra tourists, unlock investment and boost the region’s economy by £1.1 billion.

The UK community renewal fund and the UK community ownership fund are other prime examples that have worked for Dumfries and Galloway. Plans to create a 21st century village—a development that promises to become a world-class visitor attraction in Dumfries—have moved closer after securing £1.4 million of funding. The project will result in nearly 500 new carbon-neutral and age-friendly homes being built on the Crichton site.

Projects in New Galloway and Whithorn have been successful in the first bidding round for the national community ownership fund. As I said, there is £175,000 for New Galloway town hall and £300,000 towards the rebuild of Whithorn town hall. Both those projects support the social wellbeing of communities that are vital in the fabric of my constituency, through protecting facilities that would otherwise be at risk.

Furthermore, it is estimated that Dumfries and Galloway will receive more than £6.7 million to support projects that range from supporting adults who lack basic numeracy skills to helping young people into jobs and allowing residents to fulfil their potential.

The UK and Scottish Governments are working together on those projects. In the Ayrshire growth deal, the Scottish and UK Governments have contributed equally to the £103 million. As we have heard, £3 million is going to implement community wealth building.

Sadly, however, that co-operation is not universal. It is very disappointing that, despite a funding commitment from the UK Government as a result of the union connectivity review, the Scottish Government has so far failed to meet the UK Government in relation to bringing much-needed funding to improve the A75, which is critical in connecting communities and businesses in the south of Scotland.

The UK Government is taking positive steps to drive forward local and regional economies and directly deliver to local communities. The SNP Government should follow that example.

16:22  

Pauline McNeill (Glasgow) (Lab)

The phrase “community wealth building” risks being meaningless if the policies that are linked to it do nothing to alleviate the suffering that is being caused by the cost of living crisis. Currently, the economy simply is not working for a significant number of people and, as members have said, that has to change. What happened to the rhetoric at the beginning of the pandemic about building back better? We do not hear much about that now, and we have not even started down the path of changing the things that need to change. Although I see the potential of Ted Howard’s Cleveland model, in all honesty, I fail to see how Scotland is leading on that—I genuinely do not see it.

One sharp reminder that we need to radically alter the way in which the economy is structured is that, in the UK, inflation is at 9 per cent, with soaring energy bills, and there does not seem to be an end in sight. Escalating energy prices disproportionately impact on people with lower incomes, as Maggie Chapman and Richard Leonard said. The UK has the highest levels of inflation and the highest energy prices in Europe, and other G7 countries are doing a lot more to protect people from price increases. It is right to point out that context to the debate.

I acknowledge that there are pockets of success around the country but, generally, I just see a lot of failures. The fact that the Scottish Government so easily abandoned its plans for a publicly owned energy company tells me that the community wealth building strategy completely lacks ambition. We have not heard a good enough rationale for why the alternative plans have not been discussed or well developed.

The Scottish Government has to step up to the plate if it wants to match a wealth building strategy with the actual problems that people face today. We are heading for another staggering rise in the so-called energy price cap in October to £2,800, and a further 12 million households across the UK going into fuel poverty—members will be familiar with those figures. The big energy companies, which made profits of £1 billion in 2020, all deny that they can make those profits available, even in the short term, to help people who need it.

The regulator needs to toughen up and force energy companies to spend some of their profits on directly cutting bills. However, I also believe that we in Scotland could do a lot more. There is not enough time to talk about that today, but giving Energy Action Scotland a bigger role suggests to me that there are devolved aspects that we could bring into play.

The Scottish Government must give urgent support to community-owned renewable co-operatives. There is theoretical support for that—I do not think that there is an ideological divide on that point—but that must be at the heart of community wealth building. Co-operative models of ownership are vital. At this point, I declare an interest as a member of the Co-operative Party.

Communities that host renewable energy projects must benefit from those schemes. I support the Scottish Co-operative Party’s calls on the Scottish Government to give preferential treatment to genuinely community-owned renewables, by giving planning exemptions or tax breaks for example. That seems to me to fit in with a community wealth building strategy.

We have heard from other members that Preston adopted a community wealth building approach in 2011. That appears to have been highly successful because, between 2012-13 and 2016-17, the amount that was spent locally in Preston almost tripled from £38 million to £112 million. Therefore, we know that such policies can be successful. I also note that Preston has managed to halve its unemployment rate.

That success is of interest to me and to the minister. I thank the minister in advance for agreeing to meet me to discuss the issue. However, prior to that meeting, I want to use this opportunity to talk about Glasgow.

Glasgow needs a similar level of renewal to Preston. As the motion says, city regions are critical for economic development and building back, if we believe that that is what we are doing. I have been calling for an economic development agency for Glasgow for some time. I do not think that Scotland’s biggest city will recover from the many problems that it has had without something overarching being in place.

I am sure that I do not need to spell out Glasgow’s problems. However, at the moment, there are simply no answers to those problems. An announcement was made about the Clyde metro. That is a non-existent transport project currently—we are not likely to see that for 25 years. Huge damage has been done to the taxi trade, which I believe is an integral part of public transport. No one is listening to taxi drivers. We have lost huge numbers of jobs in hospitality. Ministers in other Government departments do not even seem to be interested in engaging with Glasgow airport. I note that, without an airport that has connectivity, a city region cannot be economically viable. I do not understand why the Scottish Government is not joining the dots.

I go back to the question of young people, who have been at the sharp end of the pandemic in Glasgow and across the country. Research shows that there have been lasting consequences for young adults—that is, those from the age of 19 to 34. I have a request for the minister: if the community wealth building strategy is central to the Government’s overarching aim, it must link that closely to what needs to be done to get young people back on track so that they have careers and protected quality jobs.

16:28  

Audrey Nicoll (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in support of the Government’s motion.

Anyone in the chamber or watching the debate who is familiar with the north-east of Scotland, where my constituency is located, is very likely to have friends or family members who have a relationship with the oil and gas sector, which has been the mainstay of the north-east economy for many decades. People might also know that more than £300 billion—and counting—in tax revenue has flowed from the North Sea oil and gas sector to the UK Treasury over the sector’s lifetime.

The energy sector has been, and continues to be, a lifeline for the north-east and beyond, and although there have been unintended consequences, such as high house price and recruitment challenges, including for nurses, teachers and police officers, the economic benefit has been vast.

Today, the sector retains a modified footprint, and we await with anticipation the north-east playing its part in our just transition, which will harness the skills, talent and experience of the oil and gas workforce, underpinning our national journey to net zero. Members may ask what all that has to do with community wealth building. In my view, the answer is, “Quite a lot.”

Earlier this week, I listened to an inspiring presentation by Ted Howard, who is president of the Democracy Collaborative. Like Emma Harper, I was drawn to the philosophy of community wealth building: transforming local and regional economies to deliver a true wellbeing economy.

In his presentation, Ted Howard spoke about the challenges of using traditional strategies to support economic development in urban areas, which are often simply—as he put it-–a “zero sum game”, predicated on the concept that markets reign supreme; that rooting jobs locally is irrelevant in a global economy; and that the benefits of economic growth will eventually trickle down. He outlined how we need to move beyond economies that are shaped and driven by the needs of investors, in which working people are considered simply a cost on a balance sheet, and towards an option that centres the economy around people and their needs and the communities in which they live: community wealth building. As the daughter of a local greengrocer, I did not need much persuading.

I caveat Ted Howard’s observations by noting that they relate to the US economy; however, they started to resonate with me in the context of the north-east. Listening to his perspective, I started to think about the legacy of oil and gas through a different lens. I realised that, as we stand on the brink of an energy transition, we have an opportunity to transform our places in a way that puts an emphasis on local people and on ownership, thereby growing the number of people who have a genuine stake in their local economy.

As a constituency MSP, I have spoken to many local organisations, groups and charities that have benefited from corporate support as energy sector businesses sought to fulfil their social responsibility role in the region. The arts and creative culture, food banks and apprenticeships have all been supported by the oil and gas sector and are all contributing to community wealth building—we perhaps just did not call it that. I refer to the point that Daniel Johnson made in that regard in his opening remarks.

Last year, Aberdeen city benefited from a £1 million award through the Scottish Government place-based investment programme fund, which supported a range of projects. Those included, in my constituency, the fabulous Greyhope Bay visitor centre, which was awarded £50,000—it offers the best views over the city, including dolphin watching; an off-grid cafe that uses hybrid energy and circular rainwater treatment technology; and contemporary outdoor, creative and educational programmes. Inchgarth Community Centre was given the Queen’s award for voluntary service, and it is now benefiting from a £400,000 award for its expansion. Those are living examples of a community wealth building approach that seeks to help local businesses and communities have a bigger stake in how their local economy functions.

My constituency hosts a wide range of small and medium-sized businesses that have been an integral part of the oil and gas supply chain. They include a local timber merchant that makes pallets for the offshore sector and a wholesaler that supplies the corporate hospitality sector, to name but two. Both businesses want to diversify into new markets, thereby supporting local green jobs, retaining wealth in the community and shortening the supply chain.

The Robert Gordon University report, “Making the Switch”, which was published just last week, states that, with the north-east of Scotland hosting

“the largest energy skills cluster in the UK”,

the region has a critical role to play in our energy transition. However, it is vital that our energy transition has at its heart a commitment to energy justice, through which we can seek to restructure our local economies in a way that tackles social, economic and environmental injustices while building wealth in our communities.

Last year, I spoke in a members’ business debate about plans to transform a local green space in my constituency into an energy transition zone. Economic growth is essential; however, much of the debate at that point was industry focused. There is now a need for a community-orientated perspective, through which areas are developed in a consensual way to meet both community and industry needs.

I very much look forward to being part of the delivery of the community wealth building model that is being developed by the Scottish Government, in the north-east context—bringing industry, local authorities and others together; thinking out of the box; and enabling an approach to energy transition that has truly building community wealth at its heart.

We move to closing speeches. I call Katy Clark, who has around six minutes.

16:35  

Katy Clark (West Scotland) (Lab)

I welcome the Scottish Government lodging the motion for debate today; I also welcome the wide-ranging debate. As Daniel Johnson said at the beginning of the debate, most people across the country probably do not know what community wealth building is. I hope that today’s debate has spread some information on what it is about. A number of speakers have spoken about the core principles of community wealth building: progressive procurement; fair employment; shared ownership; the just use of land; and financial decisions that benefit the local community.

The debate is not a new one, in that it is fundamentally about power, wealth and how decisions are made. As a number of speakers have said, those are not new issues. However, for community wealth building to work and to be real, there will need to be fundamental changes to how government at all levels makes decisions and policy. That is one reason why, in our amendment, Labour calls on the Scottish Government to look at

“all public procurement policies to ensure that”

the community wealth building agenda

“is embedded at every level”.

Much of the debate today has been about local initiatives and local government, but the Scottish Government really needs to look at its own practices as part of this agenda. A number of speakers have spoken about that.

Not all the challenges that we face are by any means within the Scottish Government’s control. Pauline McNeill was correct to point out the backdrop of a financial crisis that is going to hurt every community and most individuals in this country, through the cost of living crisis and the energy crisis.

Craig Hoy

Will the member join me in welcoming the UK Government’s levelling up funding, which is delivering £100 million in Paisley, £20 million in Aberdeen and £38 million in Glasgow? Does that not show the strength of the union in actually investing in Scotland’s communities?

Katy Clark

I welcome any investment in communities that helps put money and power in the hands of ordinary people, from whichever part of government it comes. I think that all of us should welcome any initiative from any part of government that is a positive policy. If the member does not mind, however, I do not think that this is the place for such party-political points. I make the point that many of the criticisms that he puts to the Scottish Government are criticisms that can be fairly put to the UK Government.

I will move on. I have spoken a bit about the huge challenges that our communities face, and a number of speakers have pointed out the challenge of poverty. The pandemic has been a period in which we have seen the wealth of the richest increase, and a number of speakers—including Maggie Chapman, who spoke about The Sunday Times rich list—have also spoken about that. The reality is that inequality in Scotland has increased over the past 10 years. According to Public Health Scotland, the difference in life expectancy between the poorest and richest areas is 26 years for men and 22 years for women. That is the backdrop for our discussion in today’s debate. We are right to say that the community wealth building agenda is one that helps to address some of those issues, because this debate is about wealth and power.

Globalisation—which, in many ways, is the opposite of some of the principles of community wealth building that we have discussed today—often sucks the life out of our economies. Importing all our plastic toys from China is the complete opposite of community wealth building.

A number of speakers, including Fiona Hyslop and Audrey Nicoll, were right to talk about local initiatives in their communities. A number of speakers talked about energy initiatives—whether that be municipal ownership and production of energy, the Edinburgh Community Solar Co-operative or the building of solar and wind farms in North Ayrshire—that are about building capacity locally, generating power locally and keeping wealth local. Fundamentally, the debate is about how our economy is organised. Collette Stevenson was correct to point out the supply chain issues relating to transparency in procurement processes, and the need for ethical procurement that prioritises local jobs.

We need a people-centred approach to local economic development in Scotland that redirects wealth back into local economies and that places control and benefits in the hands of local people. We need a local-first approach to all procurement at both local and Scottish Government levels. I look forward to the rest of the debate and to the minister’s response.

16:41  

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

Despite the handful of fairly robust exchanges this afternoon—which I thought took the SNP by surprise a little bit—we can all agree that some basic principles are required to make this policy work well.

First, community engagement must be strong and based on an approach that includes the views of local people and that establishes mutual trust. Both those points matter in tandem. How often have local communities encountered difficulties when their views have been undermined? My colleague Finlay Carson pointed out that, when developers put their claim on various community assets, the Scottish Government often supports the developers and overturns community projects. For example, since 2017, the Scottish Government has overturned 383 of 824 planning applications, so there is a real need to build trust in a level playing field and to appreciate the vast wealth of local knowledge, which can often go a very long way in ensuring that local communities make the best use of their potential.

Secondly, in relation to employment, investment and growth, the community wealth ambitions can complement those of the levelling up agenda. I think that Daniel Johnson said that it is about substitution. No, it is not; they complement one another. Indeed, I would argue that, together, they are the essential components of exactly the same policy ambitions. It is important to stress that, especially at a time of considerable financial stringency, the general public desperately want the Westminster Government, the Holyrood Government and local government to work together. They are tired of the endless bickering and sniping; they just want things getting done to benefit their local communities.

The public also want to know that they are getting value for money. Audit Scotland has come back to that point many times in recent months, because, as yet, there is not sufficient transparency, accountability and scrutiny when it comes to how money is spent.

Daniel Johnson

I totally agree with Liz Smith’s point about transparency. One of the problems is that it does not feel as though any money is being committed to this policy, let alone there being the opportunity for transparency. Does she agree?

Liz Smith

I do not entirely agree, because some money has been provided. Various members have given examples of some money having been committed. However, Daniel Johnson is right that we do not have enough detail, as he said in his speech. We need much more detail. However, Audit Scotland persistently makes the point that we are not able to scrutinise exactly where money is being spent. Daniel Johnson sits on the Finance and Public Administration Committee, as do I, and the Scottish Government must address that big issue.

I will also say something about the evidence that the Finance and Public Administration Committee has taken about the national performance framework during recent weeks. The NPF is very different in scope to the community wealth initiative, but it also has the improvement of wellbeing in our local communities at its heart. Therein lies a big challenge: the principles of the framework are all agreed, but the practice of delivery is a very different matter.

One of the most interesting points that has been mentioned by many of the stakeholders who have given evidence to our committee, is this: how can a national framework function effectively at the same time as ensuring that there is diversity in local delivery? There is a dilemma about how we manage state objectives alongside local priorities. On two occasions, the committee was told that the debate is more about how far the state should intervene and not countermand local, individual initiatives. That dilemma has to be addressed.

Very senior people in local government told us that there are already some good lines of communication among local authorities about sharing good practice across communities, but that there is also an understanding that what works well in one community might not be successful in another. That is another reason why we need flexibility and diversity, and it is a strong message, because if you want to drive success you have to promote the devolution of power to local communities. Get big Government out of the way, as well as people who are interfering in what local communities want to do and know how to do best.

We agree that a government policy framework that supports the creation of jobs, local investment, economic growth and the infrastructure that Brian Whittle spoke about so eloquently, needs to be provided. If that infrastructure is not there—if we do not have sports communities and local infrastructure to get people to specific places—we can forget about community empowerment.

Much of this is based on the increasing willingness of people to be part of their community—to shop and procure basic provisions locally and to use local services. During the pandemic, that happened out of necessity, but we need to ensure that that shift is permanent. We need to do that not only because it is of considerable benefit to those running local businesses, but also because of demographic movement. We know first hand from Scottish Fiscal Commission statistics that Scotland has major challenges with demographic imbalance, and anything that we can do to help local communities become more vibrant and help our more deprived and remote areas is good news. If local businesses flourish, so does the local population, who will be encouraged to stay.

Yesterday, the Finance and Public Administration Committee took evidence from local government—just as we did in Glasgow and Dundee a few weeks ago—and the strong message that emanates from local government is that local people need to decide on their own future. Ring fencing should be used less, so that there is more flexibility and autonomy for local authorities to spend money in line with their priorities and what they know works best. In his opening speech, Douglas Lumsden set out that local government funding is critical to this area of policymaking because, if we constrain that funding, the autonomy of local government becomes a serious issue.

Fiona Hyslop seemed very surprised by Willie Rennie’s intervention, but he is right: there are so many important things that we need to spend time debating. In his speech, he mentioned railways, ferries and, I think, BiFab—and I agree with him absolutely, but this is important, too—

Will the member give way?

I will not, because I think that I need to finish. Do I?

You do need to wind up.

Liz Smith

Sorry, Ms Hyslop.

We need to debate those things, but the debate would benefit greatly from some of the greater detail that the Scottish Government has promised. The Scottish Conservatives are content to support the motion, but our support is contingent on ensuring that there is an infrastructure around the policy to make it work well, so that it can complement so many other policies. I do not think that the public cares whether that comes from Westminster, Holyrood or local government; they just want it to work.

I invite Tom Arthur to respond to the debate. I would be grateful if you could take us up to just before decision time, minister.

16:49  

Tom Arthur

I thank colleagues across the chamber for their contributions. Although we have come some way on our journey on community wealth building, we still have a long way to go, and we have an opportunity to accelerate and intensify that process. This afternoon’s debate, which is the first debate on community wealth building that we have had in the Scottish Parliament, offered an opportunity for a collective brainstorming session in which people could bring forward their ideas on what they would like to be addressed in legislation and on what they thought community wealth building could do for their constituencies and regions and, beyond that, what it could do for Scotland as a whole.

Katy Clark

The minister will be aware that, in our amendment, we call on the Scottish Government to look at all public procurement policies to ensure that community wealth building is embedded at every level. Is the Scottish Government doing work to look at its own contracts and procurement policies to ensure that the community wealth building agenda is being fully recognised and embedded in those?

Tom Arthur

Yes, and I am happy to confirm that we will support the Labour amendment at decision time.

Katy Clark touched on the fundamental point in this debate when she said that, fundamentally, it is about how we organise our economy. Many members addressed a wide array of areas around community empowerment, asset transfers and land reform, all of which are related to and deeply connected with the community wealth building agenda. Fundamentally, the concept of community wealth building is quite radical—indeed, as Fiona Hyslop said, it involves a “revolution” in how we organise our economy and move from a failed model of having to redistribute to one in which we predistribute. That will not be easy, but it is a prize worth pursuing.

Craig Hoy

The minister talks about the organisation of the economy. Is a properly running rail service not vital to the proper running of the economy and to the creation of employment, wealth and growth? Can he tell the people of Dunbar how they will build their economy when they have no ScotRail services?

Tom Arthur

I recognise that the issue that Mr Hoy raises is a hugely significant one that has been the subject of much debate and many questions in Parliament. I have approximately eight minutes left to talk about the community wealth building agenda, and that is what I want to focus my remarks on. It is not that I do not recognise the importance of Mr Hoy’s point, but I want to use the opportunity that has been afforded to me to address the points that members have raised on community wealth building.

The point that Daniel Johnson made about the need for clarity and further information is one that I take seriously. As someone who has been immersed in the community wealth building agenda, I recognise that it can be easy to assume that people have a certain level of familiarity with and knowledge of the concept, and that work needs to be undertaken to achieve that.

However, it is important to recognise that a lot of what constitutes community wealth building is already taking place. I spoke about “a refinement” of the approach, but that was in recognition of the fact that a lot of work is already under way. It is important that, by having engagement and dialogue, we help a lot of businesses, public bodies and third sector organisations recognise that they are already participating in the community wealth building agenda—to self-identify, so to speak. The Government is doing work, in partnership with others, to help to articulate more clearly and in practical terms what “community wealth building” means. I repeat that I take Daniel Johnson’s point seriously.

Although Mr Rennie raised a lot of important issues, I was genuinely disappointed when he suggested that we should be discussing “real” issues, the implication being that community wealth building is not a real issue. I came across some quite inspiring words:

“Our community-focus will decentralise power, build wealth, help communities be involved in decisions at an early stage and respect the choices they make for their neighbourhoods. We support the people-centred wealth building agenda.”

That is from page 8 of the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ manifesto at the local government elections a few weeks ago.

Will the minister give way?

Tom Arthur

I am sorry, but I have listened to enough of Mr Rennie this afternoon. He had his opportunity and he chose to pursue an agenda that was not really related to the substance of the motion.

I thought that Fiona Hyslop’s speech was excellent. It provided exactly the kind of constructive challenge that Government requires on this agenda and made the key point that we should not legislate for the sake of legislating, but should make sure that what we put forward is nimble and adds genuine value.

That is why we are taking such a collaborative approach to developing the legislation. The Parliament has had the opportunity to have a debate this afternoon. The bill steering group involves a wide range of partners, and we will have direct engagement with local authorities and with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities. Eventually, we will also have a public consultation. We will have all of that before we introduce a bill in Parliament. That will give us an opportunity to identify what the key priorities and issues are that require a legislative remedy.

Fiona Hyslop also made an important point on the need for equity around our threshold and tolerance for risk—with private enterprise, and less so with community enterprise. I have been reflecting on that. In Scotland, we seem to have a culture in which we can be very quick to jump down each other’s throats to point out what is perceived as failure, but failure and mistakes are part of the learning process. Many community organisations that have taken ownership of assets have had to go through a learning process. They have had false starts, and faced difficulties and barriers, but by going through that process, they have accumulated knowledge, expertise and wisdom, which have allowed them to succeed and to pass on that information and share it with their peer groups and communities. We have to be tolerant and bear in mind the fact that, in a community entrepreneurial culture, we need to give people the space to have their vision and to make mistakes, but we also need to support them to continue to take things forward.

If the minister is part of a Government that really wants to learn from mistakes, why do we not have a proper inquiry into the ferry fiasco?

Tom Arthur

The member raises an important point but, again, I am going to focus on the substance of the motion that we are debating.

Alasdair Allan spoke powerfully about the role of land ownership and that will—

Minister, could you make your remarks through your microphone?

Tom Arthur

I beg your pardon, Presiding Officer.

We have a new land reform bill coming up in this session, so that will be relevant. As land and property are one of the five pillars of the community wealth building model, we will have to consider how we can provide further support. There will be an opportunity for ideas to be passed on through the consultation engagement as we consider the legislation.

Maggie Chapman spoke powerfully about our broken economic model, as did Richard Leonard, who spoke about wealth inequality and how the community wealth building model can deliver community resilience.

A number of members touched on the experience of the pandemic, when we saw a level of solidarity and communitarianism that had been absent for some time. As we emerge from the pandemic—this picks up on Pauline McNeill’s points—we ought not to lose track of the vision that we had at the start of the pandemic when we committed ourselves to learning from the experience and addressing the fundamental inequalities in society.

Community wealth building is not going to be a silver bullet and provide all the answers itself, but it can play a significant part by driving fundamental change at the local and regional levels. That can have an aggregate effect nationally and can transform the economy of Scotland overall.

Some tangential issues were raised around planning, but that is an important matter. Liz Smith made the point that it is important for this to be done in partnership with communities and not to communities. On the operation of the planning system, the reality is that the vast majority of planning applications are considered at the local level. Those that are appealed are considered by independent reporters. If members want to give me ideas for reform, I am happy to listen to them, but the key is to have more community engagement earlier in the planning process during the development of local development plans, through using the measures that are in place in the local place plans, for which regulations were laid earlier this year. That is also a part of the community wealth building agenda.

Audrey Nicoll and others spoke powerfully on the just transition. As the constituency MSP for Renfrewshire South, which includes Linwood, I know about the legacy of an unjust transition, as do my constituents. Community wealth building principles are important because, if we are to have a successful just transition, we have to take people with us. We have to recognise that if ownership of that is not centred locally and rooted in the community, it can be easy for money to disappear with other incentives. With more community control of assets and an economy that is rooted in the community, wealth is circulated locally and it is more resilient. That is intrinsically linked to what we are seeking to do with a just transition.

Does the minister recognise that increasing ring fencing in council budgets is strangling the ability of councils to make decisions locally?

Tom Arthur

The vast majority of money that local authorities have is under their control. The specific issue of ring fencing is being considered as part of the resource spending review.

There is much that I would like to say in addition to what I have said already, but I will conclude by thanking members across the chamber for what has been a very stimulating and informative debate—the first of many that we will have on community wealth building. Clearly, there are members in this place who have a real passion for the model and the ideals and principles that inform it. My door is open and I am keen to meet members and discuss how we can take forward this shared agenda together. I believe that it has the potential to be absolutely transformative for the people whom we are elected to serve.