I recently moved from Stoke-on-Trent to Scotland, so you will forgive me for writing a post that has a distinctly Scottish theme to it.
In Scotland there is a scheme called Common Good. The Common Good scheme or fund is where all the assets from the old town councils and burghs are held after they were disbanded in 70’s. The scheme is unique, as far as I am aware, in the UK.
Common good assets are the heritable (land and buildings) and moveable (paintings, furniture, chains of office etc.) property that belonged to the Burghs of Scotland. Under local government reform in 1975 Burghs and Town Councils were abolished and replaced by District and Regional Councils. In 1996 further reform introduced unitary authorities. Common good assets were subsumed within these local government reforms and placed under the stewardship of these new bodies.
Common good land is land held for the common good of all the residents of that particular burgh and has its origins in the original grants of land to the Royal Burghs of Scotland. This land, held by feudal charter, was intended to provide an income for the burgh and to provide material products for the inhabitants.
If you want to read more then there is a particularly good report by Andy Wightman and James Perman Common Good Land In Scotland.
So what does that have to do with open data?
As with the rest of the UK, Scottish councils are having to make cuts to their budgets which inevitably means cuts to services, rationalisation and disposal of assets. One unique problem they have in Scotland is that they just can’t dispose of some of the assets, if the building that any council in Scotland may want to dispose of is held by the Common Good Fund then they have to give it back to the ‘common good’, IE they have to transfer the asset to a community group, charity or community interest company that will use it for the ‘common good’. If they can’t do this then they need to got to the Court of Sessions to have the asset removed from the Common Good Scheme so it can be sold, the court may or may not put restrictions on where the proceeds of sale are distributed, to the former burgh or town, or in to the council purse.
The problem is that there are some very poor or non existent lists of common good assets held by councils. Some councils provided lists of what they held some councils didn’t have any records and some councils ignored requests for information on the assets they held.
So on to the open data, well quite simply is it possible, using what lists are available, local knowledge & crowdsourcing, to create a dataset of the buildings & land held in the common good and map them? Community groups could use the data to request a transfer of an asset they want to use rather than waiting for the relevant council to offer it back to the community or for it to go on the open market. Councils would also have access to a potentially far better data set of their assets.
At Talk About Local we love looking at ways the web can be used to provide solutions and empowering citizens on the ground to use the tools and skills to make positive changes to the places where they live. We have an enviable track record of working with communities at grassroots level across the country as well as for research and innovation when it comes to geolocation, mapping and augmented reality.
We would really like to speak to people about how we can use our skills, tools & contacts to work with communities, organisations and local authorities to open up the Common Good asset lists for the benefit of communities and councils.
If you are interested, have some data, ideas, want to work with us or just want to see what happens if we can get this idea started then please leave a comment below.