Thanks, but no thanks
New Start Magazine
Resident directors often get little reward for their hard work and commitment. Steve Hartley says it’s about time regeneration initiatives and the government showed their appreciation.
The notion that residents should help improve their neighbourhoods has been a constant stream in government rhetoric since New Labour came to power in 1997. Whether this has come in the guise of social inclusion, active citizenship, social entrepreneurs, community led regeneration, ‘new localism’ or a host of other labels, the bottom line is that the powers that be want to see ordinary folk giving up more of their time for the collective good.
Community involvement has been a key plank of the government’s neighbourhood renewal strategy from the start. We know it makes sense: local people know what the problems are, they know what’s failed in the past, they have good ideas about what will work and they are the ones who will be around to keep it all going in the future. However, understandably, not everyone wants to get involved. I’m certainly not keen to trot down to my local regeneration forum when I get home from work, and even filling out the council’s quarterly ‘speak out’ questionnaire can feel like an effort at the end of a long day. So, the burden can often fall on relatively few willing and active volunteers to get on with making a difference.
The job is usually a big one (it’s the worst areas that really need the activists’ help) and the demands often arrive at the door of those perceived to have the most time to contribute – people who are out of work, at home and on benefits.
There are many extraordinary people who have risen to this challenge and whose commitment in time, and mental and physical energy is astounding. But is it fair to expect that this work gets done for nothing, and if not, how can the system find some
way of rewarding those who put so much in?
At Bradford Trident (which runs the new deal for communities programme) we start with the premise that resident involvement is crucial to the transformation of the neighbourhoods we work in. It follows that those who get involved – especially through the huge time commitment and responsibility necessary to become a director of our company – must be rewarded over and above the satisfaction they get from helping to improve the place where they live.
There is an argument to be had about the nature of voluntary effort and people’s motivation for action, but the most obvious solution is to pay people for involvement. This is fraught with difficulties, not least of which is how much to pay.
My own view is that the role of our community directors equates most closely with that of jobs such as non-executive directors on primary care trusts or local authority councillors. However, if we were to pay these rates our directors in receipt of benefit would suffer from clawback of income and be disadvantaged compared with those in work (who still have to pay tax).
Instead we pay what is effectively an honorarium of £1,300 to our community directors as self-employed consultants who must declare this money as earned income. We point them to the best advice and support to help them deal with the benefits and tax issues that arise and which are their own responsibility.
There are also other ways in which we can support our directors and show our appreciation of their value. We, of course, reimburse all out-of-pocket expenses at Inland Revenue guideline rates including childcare, travel, telephones and overnight expenses when working out of Bradford. Importantly, we pay this as quickly as possible with minimum hassle. We also make payments for loss of earnings (certified by the employer) when those in employment have to take unpaid leave to work for Trident. We loan personal computers (and provide the consumables, technical support and training) and pay for the internet access so important to their roles as directors. We promote and cover training and education fees for all courses linked to our work. These have ranged from university degree level to one day seminars.
I also like to think that the extras such as decent food at meetings around meal times, social events, away days and fact finding trips all go towards directors feeling valued and building the high levels of mutual respect which exist between our staff team and board.
We simply could not meet the challenges of neighbourhood renewal without the huge input of local residents, particularly those on our board. The rewards we provide are, I believe, small compared with the benefits gained and could be seen as a minimum for all involved in this business.
It’s about time government backed up the rhetoric of involvement with legislation that sets a minimum level of reward for those working so hard to make a difference in their neighbourhoods, so that it doesn’t feel like a crime to accept rewards for involvement.
Steve Hartley is chief executive of Bradford Trident the city’s new deal for communities partnership.