JACKIE Weaver has insisted Scotland’s community councils could be improved by being given more autonomy instead of being “kept in line”.

The unlikely internet sensation – who went viral after ejecting councillors from a virtual Handforth Parish Council meeting in 2021 - appeared in front of Holyrood’s Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee on Tuesday as the 50th anniversary of community councils was marked.

The session was part of the committee’s ongoing work looking at the Scottish Government’s Local Governance Review which aims to reform the way that Scotland is governed to give greater control to communities. 

There are around 1200 community councils and they act as a bridge between communities and councils, but they have fewer powers than similar bodies in England and Wales.

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Unlike in the rest of Britain, Scottish community councils do not have tax-raising powers and are dependent upon local authority funding.

When asked what she felt the strengths were of the system in England compared to Scotland, Weaver – who is chief officer at the Cheshire Association of Local Councils - said town and parish councils south of the Border had more autonomy and in many cases have a bigger immediate impact on people’s lives.

She told the committee: “I think it’s very interesting to hear they [community councils] are valued in Scotland and yet in some ways they are also kept in line, so they have no autonomy.

“For me, what I’ve seen, in my career of 25 years, [is] that there has been an enormous change in England.

“I would say 25 years ago our town and parish councils were very much like your community councils, but they had tax raising powers, but they didn’t do very much with them at all.

“What we’ve seen is our central government funding has reduced in England dramatically for our principal authorities and we see our town and parish councils stepping up and filling the gaps and these very community based things actually make a huge difference.

“People think the biggest issue might be highways or adult social care – of course, they are very important. But the things that really impact people’s daily lives are things that happen next door to you and that’s where our town and parish councils come into their own.”

Elsewhere in the discussion, the committee heard from a panel of community councillors representing Edinburgh, Shetland, Aberdeenshire, West Lothian, Moray, Clackmannanshire and Cambuslang in South Lanarkshire.

Oliver Escobar, senior lecturer in public policy at the University of Edinburgh, acknowledged community councils often attracted “unfair criticism” as they do a lot of work “with limited resources”.

He added they were “refreshing” because they were non-partisan and were often behind many exciting local renewal projects.

But he admitted there was a “patchy landscape” of community councils across the country. Despite the fact there are around 1200 across the country, not all of them have members and many of them do not have contested elections, and Escobar said it was almost a “miracle” they had kept going for 50 years.

Emma Swift, a communications officer at the Improvement Service organisation, said community councils should be promoted more to young people as a part of a career path to becoming a councillor or politician.