Throughout the pandemic we have seen numerous examples of neighbourliness and mutual support in communities, and a new-found openness and can-do spirit in public services. If we can work out how to harness this spirit the crisis will not have been wasted. So says a cross-party group of MPs in Together Again.
The essayists include Boris Johnson’s former adviser, Danny Kruger, now MP for Devizes and parliamentary private secretary in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Rachael Maskell MP, Labour shadow minister for the voluntary sector, and Tim Farron MP, former leader of the Liberal Democrats.
They, and George Freeman MP (Mid Norfolk) Jo Gideon MP (Stoke on Trent Central), Stephen Kinnock MP (Aberavon) and Layla Moran MP (Oxford West and Abingdon), review the response to the first Covid lockdown, finding that there is more social capital in their very different constituencies than might have otherwise been apparent.
The Report’s editor, Ben Rich, Radix Chief Executive, identifies a number of shared recommendations including:
- Government and particularly local authorities work best coordinating, funding and supporting, rather than managing and attempting to lead the voluntary sector.
- We should not be afraid to empower individuals and volunteers who do not have formal mandates, and give local economies more economic and fiscal freedoms.
- Volunteering pathways need actively to be promoted to encourage first time volunteering including through schools, workplaces and job centres.
- Initiatives by street, cul-de-sac, village and Parish are often more impactful and more cost effective than centralised schemes, even managed at local authority level .
- Public bodies should be less ‘sniffy’ about partnering with faith organisations.
- Emergency decision-making procedures put in place for the course of the pandemic should not automatically be abandoned or competitive tendering reintroduced.
These conclusions arise not from polemic but from the many moving large- and small-scale community responses reflected in the MP’s various essays. These range from stories of street champions running errands and shopping for vulnerable neighbours to manufacturers retooling their works to provide PPE for the NHS. Farron focusses on the contribution of Christian organisations arguing that it has been a particularly significant example of community spirit in action, while Freeman and Kinnock both provide examples from the business community. Gideon and Moran in different ways consider the role of local councils and all the MPs comment on the success or otherwise of government responses.
The paper is inspired by Kruger’s paper of October 2020, Levelling up our communities: Proposals for a new social covenant. In it, he writes:
“The experience of the recent crisis – the willingness of local people to step forward and collaborate, the flexibility shown by public services and the social commitment of businesses – shows what is possible…” and now adds “As restrictions are lifted, strong families and communities will remain as vital as ever. And we will weather the next disaster, if our social fabric is strong enough to absorb the shock.”
“The findings of this cross-section of MPs – based on what they have personally observed during the pandemic in the communities they know best, provide a unique collective insight into the high level of social capital which is still present across the country. If we can harness that goodwill and can-do spirit it will not only help us in the future not only in times of crisis but to achieve much more all of the time. To work out how to do that is the purpose of this Report and the further work we are planning in this area.”
Read the full report here.