THERE are a thousand ways to bury bad news and it's by way of a backhanded compliment that I suggest the Scottish Government press office knows all of them.
But what if you have something rather controversial and actually want to announce it?
Oddly this can be a tougher nut to crack as Derek Mackay, Scotland's energetic Local Government Minister, and his press team discovered this week. He has been keen to drum up interest in the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill which, it's fair to say, has hardly set the heather alight since it was unveiled a year ago. So, with a largely unnoticed consultation drifting quietly towards a closing date at the end of the month, he decided to float some new ideas. The rhetoric was cranked up, the parliamentary debate secured and the (very thorough) press release issued. Most papers paid not the blindest bit of notice.
Sure, the Holyrood press pack had dug itself in for an energy-sapping semantic battle with Government spin doctors over EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's comments on EU membership, but this was a harsh verdict on the Minister's efforts. He was, after all, proclaiming as loudly as he could "the biggest transfer of power since devolution" and his relaunched consultation included some genuinely radical stuff, including giving community groups compulsory purchase rights over derelict land or property.
"What does a guy have to do around here," he could have been fogiven for thinking, "to get an alarmist headline in the Scottish press?"
Well, the cat's out of the bag now and I suspect the Community Empowerment and Renewal Bill will finally overcome its deadly dull title and attract the attention it deserves. At its heart is the laudable aim of giving Scotland's unsung network of community groups and development trusts a helping hand – possibly the upper hand – in their often fraught dealings with officialdom and private sector landlords.
The Bill could give them, for example, an "urban right to buy" mirroring groundbreaking Holyrood legislation which lets rural communities buy the land where they live and work if it comes on the market.
It could create a "community right to grow," allowing allotments and gardens to spring up on derelict land where the owner, public or private sector, is unable to produce convincing plans for its future use. The same could apply to buildings, making it much easier for community groups or sports clubs to find a proper home. What's more, they could be given a direct say in how council funds are allocated under a "particpatory budgeting" proposal also added to the consultation this week. It's no wonder the CBI, some of whose big business members amass speculative land banks, and Cosla, who resists any diminution of local authority authority, are watching warily.
Their alarm is more than matched by the enthusiasm of grassroots activists. In the Bill they see the potential, at least, to transform the relationship between citizens and the state and, far more importantly of course, Get Things Done.
There are plenty of examples of groups who might benefit. One highlighted by the Minister is Edinburgh's Broomhouse Health Strategy Group whose volunteers run a fruit and veg shop, cookery courses and delivery service in an area where access to fresh produce is limited. An urban smallholding would be a natural next step.
As for bringing buildings back into use, Mark McRitchie, chief executive of the Community Central Hall in Maryhill, Glasgow, believes his independently run hub could be a model for other groups joining forces to create a permanent base.
It's early days and the consultation is only "exploratory". Some of the proposals are sure to be weeded out by the time the Government publishes a final version of the Bill next year but in the meantime community groups should fire off their views to Mr Mackay.
If guerilla gardeners are to go legit, it will be his Community Empowerment Bill that does it.
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