It has been said that democracy is the process by which we decide who to blame.
Certainly those of us who have been elected can fairly expect questions on why things have not been changed, but the difficulty often lies in people’s expectations. We are frequently told that the government isn’t doing enough - feel free to pick your subject - but rarely hear what the government should do less of to pay for the change.
We looked at proposals to change the way in which we deal with offenders within the community last week in parliament. It is a matter of record that we have more prisoners per head of population than almost any other European nation. It is also a fact that about 30% of those leaving prison reoffend within a year, a percentage which has not changed much in recent years. And prisons are seriously expensive to run. Reducing reoffending would be of significant economic benefit as well as obviously making our communities safer.
The Community Justice Bill replaces the present eight Local Criminal Justice Boards with a single nation board and requires all the relevant local partners to work together in the context of existing community planning arrangements. Local partners include the police, the local authority, the health board, the courts service, the prison service and Skills Development Scotland, each of which clearly has a part to play in the services designed to keep those who have fallen foul of the law on the straight and narrow after their release.
The good news is that this organisational change puts budget control and responsibility much more into local hands, something we usually cry out for.
The national board’s responsibility for general dissemination of good practice and monitoring of results is also surely to be welcomed. And the nett result? The biggest single determinant of success will be the local leadership.
Some of our community leaders are appointed, senior police officers for example. But our local councillors are elected, and they do a very important job - actually many important jobs between them. And whilst parliaments decide on the structures of our services it is councillors who are often in the lead making things happen.
I want to take this opportunity to recognise the work our local councillors do. We did not elect them to take the blame but to allow them to make difficult decisions on our behalf.
They will be re-elected in May 2016. It’s a fulfilling but challenging role.
If you are already involved within your local community maybe you should consider standing; but beware: thick skin required.