Council focuses on partnership, community challenge and rural poverty

Discussions at yesterday’s Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee of The Highland Council, held at the Court House in Nairn, focussed on partnership working; empowering communities; and issues of rural poverty.

Grant Moir Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) opened the meeting with a presentation to update Council Members on the work of the National Park, its key challenges and opportunities for the future and the potential for joint working with the Council.

During his update on the National Park Partnership Plan Mr Moir said: “Some of the fastest growing communities in the Highlands are in the Cairngorms National Park area which brings both challenges and opportunities. We have to understand the pressures that are placed on the Park and ensure that we have the right policies in place to manage these pressures in the long term.

“The Strengthening Communities partnership in Badenoch and Strathspey between CNPA, Highland Council, VABS and  local communities is held up as good practise across Scotland and across Badenoch and Strathspey all communities now have community action plans in place. ”

He added that the Park was also a successful tourism destination with the key being the long term conservation of its natural assets. 43% of people employed in the Cairngorms National Park work in tourism which attracts over 1.5 million visitors each year. He said: “The Cairngorms National Park should easily rank among international parks on a global basis in terms of attracting tourists with its outstanding nature, great visitor facilities and high quality villages and towns.”

Leader of the Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey Area Committee, Councillor Liz MacDonald thanked Mr Moir for his presentation and said: “It is important that outlying communities - including those in the Nairn area - work to put their own actions plans in place as the high level of community led projects in the National Park area demonstrates that there are some good lessons to be learned from the experience gained in the Cairngorm communities that have successful community action plans up and running.”

Michelle Morris, Highland Council’s Depute Chief Executive gave an update to Members on the Council’s recent efforts to promote the Community Challenge Fund. She explained that the Fund aims to allow communities to take direct control of local services currently provided by the Council, or to take ownership of buildings or other assets owned by the Council. She said: “We are trying to make the Fund more flexible. Experience in the previous rounds of applications has shown that some communities are well organised and others are not. Because of this the Council has set aside funds to help communities set up their business case for Challenge Funding.”

Members welcomed the hands-on capacity building support being offered by the Council to help communities with their funding applications.

Leader MacDonald said: “It’s good to see the evidence and community projects that have been successful with applications for the Challenge Funding in other parts of the Highlands. I am delighted that there has been some fresh promotion of the Fund with new leaflets published and hopefully the new support available for communities to help them put their bids together will provide some futures successes in our local areas.”

The Committee’s focus then moved to looking at issues surrounding rural poverty.  In its Programme The Highland Council has a commitment that it will develop new approaches to service delivery and community resilience in the most remote and rural communities.  As part of the commitment, the Council has contributed to two research projects on rural poverty. Members discussed the findings of the research which allows the Council to understand the challenges that exist when the Council sets new policies and delivers change.

Using the findings of the research the Council has created a tool which will be used by staff when developing new policies to assess the potential impact changes may have on services in remote and rural area.  This safe guard will ensure rural communities are not adversely affected by new policies and, if needed, adjustments can be made so they reflect specific rural needs.

Members discussed one of the research findings that highlighted low levels of benefit uptake in rural Highland areas among people that were entitled to benefit. Leader MacDonald said: “We need to look further into the reasons for the low benefit uptake by people in rural communities who need financial support the most. It’s important to find out why people who are entitled to benefits are not claiming so that we can try to support them.”

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12 Jun 2014
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