Devolved powers ‘must go to deprived groups’
By Heather Greig-Smith
Any devolution of decision-making to local communities must avoid exacerbating social division by giving powers only to affluent groups, ministers have warned.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott says in a pamphlet on localism from the think-tank the John Smith Institute that involving communities in government processes is key to policies like the Sustainable Communities Plan.
Local government minister Nick Raynsford and ODPM minister Yvette Cooper argue that Labour must champion reforms that empower people in deprived, as well as affluent, areas. In the pamphlet, launched last week at 11 Downing Street,
Cooper writes that many community organisations in deprived areas are delivering change in ways that statutory agencies have struggled to do. She cautions that badly thought through initiatives will only entrench vested interests and exacerbate social division.
In particular, Cooper says local areas should not raise their own taxes for local services. ‘If affluent communities can buy themselves better policing or more frequent litter collections or clean-up campaigns than poorer estates can afford, then inequalities will widen,’ she says.
In his chapter, Raynsford argues for greater freedom at a local level, but says this does not mean a withdrawal by central government from involvement in local affairs.
The ministers are critical of schemes where community groups try to divorce themselves from statutory bodies and ‘go it alone’. Birmingham’s rust New Deal for Communities programme was censured for interpreting its community dimension as a reason to gain independence from the council in a scrutiny report by the council earlier this year (Regeneration & Renewal, 2 April, pI).
Ben Hughes, chief executive of community group network the British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres (Bassac), said the way local authorities hold power is often at odds with really investing in local communities. ‘1fansferring decision-making to a community level needs to go hand in hand with appropriate asset transfer,’ he said.
Making Sense of Localism is available from (tel) 020 78234240.
Source: Regeneration & Renewal magazine