Sunday, 19 February 2012

Jubilee - time for Direct Action on Rural Economies?

The forthcoming Diamond Jubilee has reminded me that it was at the time of the 1977 Queen's Silver Jubilee that I first understood the need for "ordinary people" to become involved in determining their own future, if necessary taking direct action within the law.

This realisation led me to become active in politics and the community, broadening base choices of voluntary activities from church-based youth work.

At the time, I was a DJ apalled on two levels at a popular record, God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols. It was number two in the charts, so I played it at a disco dance. The crowd loved it. I did not. Musically it was dis-tuneful, if there is such a word. Lyrically it was just a rant against "the establishment", running counter to the general joy of the Jubilee. Direct action was called for, so the vinyl disc containing the offending music and lyrics was flung to the crowd with a self-exhortation never to play such junk again.

More thought followed that gig, and so did other direct actions, the details of which are for another piece at another time. Suffice it to say that I became concerned about sustainable economic development and "helping people to help themselves", the mantra/motto/slogan (you choose) of the Queen's Silver Jubilee Appeal, which I became involved in. Social Accounting was not even on the horizon and did not enter my thinking until decades later, but in retrospect it would have been very useful to have applied it to the outcomes of the Appeal at the time.

In 1975, John V Taylor wrote the book "Enough is Enough". In it, he links covetousness, greed, economics and peace. The book was to prove a great influence. It could even be described as prophetic. I had just read it at the time when Ernesto Sirolli received the Silver Jubilee Award for the "Best Job Creating Project in Australia". Along with many others, Sirolli had been influenced by British economist E. F. Schumacher's book "Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered", during his time as an Italian volunteer in Africa. He took direct action, and went on to pioneer a bottom-up, community-led economic development system in Esperance, Western Australia, making himself available in a cafe to discuss with, and coach, anyone who really wanted to start a business or expand and improve an existing one.

In 1999, Ernesto Sirolli's book "Ripples from the Zambezi" was published. Subtitled "Passion, Entrepreneurship and the Rebirth of Local Economies", he charts the development of his thinking about sustainable economies, provoking and challenging readers to engage in personal and collective economic growth. He shows how communities can take direct action and bring about real sustainable economic growth by empowering individuals to help themselves.

Here in Kintyre, I want to highlight two recent examples of long-term direct community action.

Opportunity Kintyre was one of three pilot projects set up in Scotland to test the economic development model of Ernesto Sirolli. The pilot period ran from 26 Feb 2007 to March 31 2009, during which an Enterprise Facilitator was employed. Social accounts were prepared to look at how well the social enterprise performed against its objectives. Data was gathered from a variety of sources to provide information for the social accounts, which were subject to Social Audit. A summary of Opportunity Kintyre's Social Accounting Report was published on their web site. Although the report concluded that Opportunity Kintyre had been providing a beneficial service to the Kintyre community, a change of government meant a change of emphasis, and further Scottish Government funding was not available. (Funding for Business Gateway, via Argyll & Bute Council, did continue, however.)

By 2011, Highland & Islands Enterprise (HIE), one of the funders of Opportunity Kintyre, had developed "Growth at the Edge" to build on the achievements of their earlier "Initiative at the Edge" regeneration scheme in conjunction with LEADER. HIE have chosen South Kintyre Development Trust (SKDT) to be the anchor social enterprise for Growth at the Edge in South Kintyre. The plan is to meet the challenge presented by fragile rural economies by acting as a catalyst for innovative and sustainable community development. Expectations are high that a Community Development Plan can be crafted and implemented to "take account of opportunities to enhance the socio-economic, cultural and environmental welfare of the local area", in the words of the recent SKDT job advertisement.

It is unfortunate that changes in government funding priorities have produced discontinuities in community effort. It is a coincidence that the Silver and Diamond Jubilees mark mileposts along the road to sustainable economic development, but it is no coincidence that "helping people to help themselves" remains the underlying theme.


Small Is Beautiful - E. F. Schumacher - ISBN-10: 0099225611, ISBN-13: 978-0099225614
Enough Is Enough - John V. Taylor - ISBN-10: 0334003768, ISBN-13: 978-0334003762
Ripples From The Zambezi - Ernesto Sirolli - ISBN-10: 0865713979, ISBN-13: 978-0865713970