It is great news that Lochgelly is up for a SURF award, in large part for the fantastic work carried out by residents and local community groups.
However, it is unfortunate that Fife Council and local councillors have chosen to piggy-back on the back of these grassroots organisations to claim they have an integrated approach towards community empowerment and engagement. Sadly this is not the case.
Fife Council’s document ‘Our Place – Living in Fife 2016’ reports a worrying trend of community disengagement from the local authority and local elected representatives. Fife’s People Panel members raised concerns that the local authority doesn’t listen to people, consultations are PR/tickbox exercises and that some councillors are inaccessible.
We only have to look at Fife Council’s flagship Town House project in Lochgelly. Owned by residents under Common Good, Fife Council snatched it from the community by only partially informing residents of its plans at the eleventh hour. In return, the community got a few pennies which councillors are already eyeing up for their own pet projects.
Then we have Lochgelly Centre, once a thriving community hub. To help Fife Council reduce its VAT bill, it was syphoned off to Fife Cultural Trust, which then gradually excluded the wider community.
On top of this, it looks like the Lochgelly Town Hall will be saved by shifting ownership to Fife Cultural Trust who will most likely use it to expand their wedding services. Of course there will be a tokenistic gesture towards residents so that it can be claimed to be inclusive of the local community.
If Lochgelly wins an award, it should be in recognition of the fantastic work carried out by many residents and local groups such as Lochgelly Gala committee, Lochgelly Community Development Forum, Spirit of Lochgelly, Growing in Lochgelly, Loch of Shining Waters, Lochgelly Past & Present, and many more.
The award should not be given for the failed policies under the Lochgelly Charettes which continue to be blindly followed by Fife Council and local councillors. Nor should it reward Fife Council and councillors for piggy-backing on the hard work of residents, especially when some residents have faced hostility from elected representatives and bodies for trying to improve the local area.
Good luck to all the community groups in the Lochgelly area who continue to work hard despite the odds stacked against them. Their contribution should be recognized and not cynically exploited by a local authority and councillors who have failed to act over decades to make significant social improvements across the town.