Report that explores the role and relevance of community councils in Scotland’s evolving policy context, especially as public service reform continues through the Scottish Government’s Local Governance Review.


This report from the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC) and What Works Scotland explores how community councils can be even more relevant in Scotland’s evolving policy context, especially as public service reform continues through the Scottish Government’s Local Governance Review.

Imagine a democratic body that... Acts as a bridge between citizens and public authorities. Works at a local level, open to all citizen to attend meetings and take part in public deliberation. Consists of people who volunteer, unpaid, to help address issues on behalf of their local community. As with other democratic institutions, works more democratically when interest, awareness and voting turnout are higher Enables people to engage in political decision making and current issues, without having party politics as a basis for contribution. Has been found internationally to be sometimes more diverse than ‘higher-tier’ democratic institutions. Is a way for people with little experience of politics to get involved. Has, in some places, been leading the way using new ‘empowering’ legislation and democratic innovations.Researchers heard from more than 600 people involved in community councils to hear about the role they play in our democratic landscape – and what could change to improve how they represent local communities going forward.

Community councils (CCs) are seen to have an important role within this policy environment, as part of the empowerment agenda boosted by the Christie Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services and the 2014 COSLA Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy. In the Community Empowerment Act community councils are referred to as a ‘community participation body’ that can make a participation request.

Opportunities therefore exist for community councils in this emerging policy landscape. Our research explores how community councils can take forward these opportunities.

But there are challenges as well. Community councils have told us about these challenges during the research. They include issues around power, legitimacy, diversity and support.

Our recommendations

  1. Community councils have the potential to be a vehicle for community empowerment and democratic renewal in Scotland and strengthening them should be considered amongst different options for improving local democracy within the Local Governance Review currently co-led by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Local Scottish Authorities.
  2. Our findings make a strong call for reforming community councils through giving them enhanced power and increased resources while supporting them to involve and engage with their wider communities and to become more representative of diversity.
  3. There is not necessarily a conflict or contradiction between the need for community councils to have more influence and the need for them to be more democratic and representative of diversity. If these dimensions are tackled simultaneously, they will reinforce one another
  4. Support is needed for community councils to be more democratic and empowering. This includes training, capacity building, resources, networking and promotion. Councils should review their current support for community councils and, in collaboration with the Scottish Government, put in place resources to improve community councils’ capacity to meet local needs and aspirations.
  5. Where an appetite exists, development and support should be provided for local community council associations as a source of information and support for community councils and a regular point of contact for local authorities and other agencies.
  6. Compensation schemes should be put in place to support community councillors with accessibility, travel, caring responsibilities, and even loss of earnings. Otherwise, the system is not genuinely open to young people, single parents, disabled people, carers, low paid workers and the self-employed, etc.
  7. In order to make community councils more representative of diverse groups and perspectives, consideration should be given to new measures regarding community council membership, including increasing the size of community councils, widening the criteria for who can join and making use of alternative forms of democratic selection to complement elections.
  8. The Scottish Government should conduct a marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness of community councils, demonstrating impact and increasing community council membership.
  9. Reforms should be carefully designed to allow variance so that local needs can be met. Community councils work in contrasting parts of Scotland, are at different stages and will require a flexible range of powers and support. This should vary between and within local authority areas.

Download the report

Get the Strengthening Community Councils report on the Scottish Community Development Centre website.

More details

Related resources

More What Works Scotland resources about community empowerment