The Budget underplayed the role of individuals and communities, and local areas are ‘now at a point where we need to get community power done’, says the chair of the New Local Government Network (NLGN).
Speaking at the NLGN’s Stronger Things:Unleasing Community Power event at London’s Guildhall today, chair of the NLGN Donna Hall told delegates she was ‘a little disappointed in the Budget – the only mention of communities was in its referral to people as “human capital”’.
She argued that it was the power of communities that would enable places to deal with the challenges of threats such coronavirus.
‘Who is going to support people to get through the coronavirus situation? The answer is neighbourhoods, communities and social structures’, she said.
The former chief executive of Wigan Council and Chorley Council said the NLGN had been ‘completely blown away’ by the reach of the Community Paradigm approach to community empowerment, pioneered by Wigan Council and now being used in other areas including Fleetwood, Preston and Camden.
She said the Community Paradigm was ‘not a project and not a PR or civic pride thing.
‘It is totally changing the way public servants and communities work together in everything we do.’
She said there was 'gowing interest within Government' in the Community Paradigm approach'.
Now is the time for a fresh approach to local leadership, she added. ‘I think we need a different type of leader. We need leaders who are brave enough to let go and let their staff do the things they need to do to help residents.’
She added: ‘We need to expose leaders more to real communities.’
There were a number of leaders who did not understand community power, said Ms Hall. ‘I feel there are a lot of people who don’t get this stuff and think their job is economic development. What we desperately need is a new community paradigm mindset.’
Changing the culture of an organisation ‘only takes one or two people’, she added.
Ms Hall added: ‘The issue is we don’t join up information across the system and we don’t concentrate on building relationships (with citizens).
Residents often disengage with local services ‘because we are rubbish’, she pointed out.
She criticised what she called the ‘Key Performance Indicator culture’ , adding: ‘The KPI culture is heavily centralised, and focused on outputs that don’t reflect the way people live their lives in modern Britain’.
A number of breakout sessions at the event looked at how the lessons of the success of the Community Paradigm could be applied. One session facilitated by Engie looked at using community power for action on climate change.
Hannah Jameson, head of policy and partnerships at Lambeth LBC said one key issue was how to build community capacity.
She added: ‘We need to have the broadest of skills to build preventative capacity. We need a community capacity approach, including local solutions to aspects such as greening, flooding, and other issues. We need a view on integrating that stuff.’