Strengthening local democracy across the Highlands
The Highland Council has agreed to replace two Area Committees with four new Local Forums for community planning and local decision-making and scrutiny for Councillors and for local community planning if partners agree to take part.
The two Area Committees covering Caithness and Sutherland and Nairn and Badenoch and Strathspey will be disbanded and established as four new separate local community planning forums.
It is proposed that Skye would have similar separate arrangements from Ross and Cromarty, following further discussions.
Lochaber will continue with an evolutionary approach to change, retaining the Area Committee and a separate local community planning partnership.
Council business in the new local community planning forums would be focussed on decision making, local scrutiny, partnership business and public engagement. It is envisaged that there should be devolved control over Community Services budgets, engaging communities in deciding local spending priorities.
Local Members have agreed to use some of their Ward Discretionary Fund for Participatory Budgeting in some areas this year. This will mean that local communities will be invited to be involved in identifying and deciding how this should be spent. Caithness and Nairn are the first areas to take this forward.
The new arrangements will evolve over time to support the implementation of new legal duties arising from the Community Empowerment Act.
There will be further discussions with community planning partners on the partnership elements of the new forums and the feedback from these will be reported to Council in October.
Inverness City Committee will continue in its current form at present but this may change depending on Members’ views..
Leader of the Council, Cllr Margaret Davidson said: “These are golden opportunities and up to us to make the most of it. There is a huge appetite to go back to localised committees and to do more community planning, with more decision making and more service planning. The Community Empowerment Act gives us the tools to take this forward. We have really good practice in Highland.
She added: “We do need to be absolutely clear about what this will cost us and we need to reduce travel time for officers. We need to work out how we evaluate what we are doing and that we are actually doing what our communities want. The Strengthening Local Democracy Commission was very clear – we need to listen to our communities and what they want.”